After Lockout, Goodell Must Listen to Players

After Lockout, Goodell Must Listen to Players

Once NFL owners and players finally sign the new collective bargaining agreement that will carry them through the next 10 years, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's next move is such a no-brainer he should already be working on his itinerary.

He should go on a listening tour of NFL training camps. Tell the players -- even the ones calling him a fraud, a joke, a devil and a crook -- they can put away their checkbooks and he'll put away the fines he's been handing out since he instituted the NFL's personal conduct policy -- the single most despised invention of his tenure. Then get in a room, shut the door and air everything out. Man to man, face to face.

The reason Goodell should do it now is not because he should worry about being universally liked. No commissioner should give a rip about that. This isn't about ginning up approval like he's running for Prom King. It's about the more practical matter of having a decent enough relationship with the players to be able to conduct business in such a way that his tenure or the league isn't dragged down by a constantly recurring series of racial or class warfare faceoffs. Because even before the lockout, it sometimes seemed that way.

Does commissioner-player conflict matter, even if it's perception and not reality? You bet.

If the griping about Goodell was only coming from what passes for the lunatic fringe among NFL players nowadays -- those self-described "mean S.O.B.s" who strike knucklehead poses for magazine photo shoots with matching pistols, the proud old-schoolers who grumble the game's pro-safety wing is turning the NFL into flag football -- it'd be easy to dismiss the gripes as just rockhead thinking.

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