NFL JUSTICE: Roger Goodell, Zeus, and the Justice of God

The NFL’s punishment of its players has been in the news quite a bit recently, and while NFL players getting in trouble is nothing new, the past year has seen a shift in focus. While the actions of the players are still the focal point of the coverage, there has been increasing scrutiny on how the NFL hands down punishment to its players. That has certainly been the case with the federal court decision regarding Tom Brady’s four game suspension for under-inflated footballs.

The reason for the shift has been the combination of high profile cases with an arbitrary handling of punishment. Whether it was Ray Rice only being suspended for four games for punching his then fiancée in the face or Josh Gordon getting a year long suspension for testing positive for marijuana, there is a growing consensus that the punishments doled out are fickle and in no way reflect the gravity of the wrong committed. Minor infractions are punished vigorously while grave infractions are treated lightly.

Even the means for determining guilt and punishment are arbitrary. A quick skim over the federal court decision to overturn the four game suspension of Tom Brady shows just how farcical the NFL’s “justice” is. Any time you have a lawyer serving as both the co-author of an “independent” investigation and council for one of the parties in an arbitration hearing, you know that any attempted appearance of fairness is a sham.

In spite of the expectation that NFL punishments are capricious and its judgments unfair, every new mishandling of a conduct issue is news. Humans are obsessed with injustice, real or perceived, and every time a punishment comes down that does not fit the crime, it piques our curiosity. Even in a society where moral relativism has become the cultural expectation, people still see that arbitrarily handing out punishments is unjust. This is because a desire for justice is a part of our nature.

Early humans attempted to understand the unstable natural world by creating a pantheon of gods who could serve of agents of both justice and iniquity. The gods were fickle, like the world around them, and could not be relied upon to make things right in the end. The natural world provided food and materials, yet it was a source of disaster and hardship. The gods, like the weather, could be counted on for blessings and curses.

zeusRoger Goodell is not dissimilar from Zeus in his uneven wielding of authority. Zeus acts out of jealousy and passion, and his willingness to use subterfuge to get what he wants makes him untrustworthy. He is not above transforming into a swan to seduce Leda, yet he punished Prometheus for deceiving him into accepting a poor sacrifice of fat and bones. Zeus is perfectly happy to swallow Metis to prevent a child from being born that may overthrow his reign and yet he tormented Phineus with harpies when his second wife tricked him into blinding his own sons. Zeus is more than willing to mete out harsh justice for minor faults while overlooking grave evils. One wonders how the Greeks would have depicted a judge who brings a grievance against a citizen, only to preside over the case himself, all the while claiming to “be bound by standards of fairness and consistency.”

Ultimately, humans are ordered towards justice. While humanity lost original justice at the fall, that natural inclination towards justice can never be wholly purged from our human nature. Our conscience still lays the law of God on our heart. There is no thief who is so deadened that he does not desire the return of his own goods when they are stolen. This is not to say that that nature hasn’t been gravely wounded by original sin; this longing for justice can be suppressed, ignored, and generally mutilated to allow all sorts of self-deception that is contrary to our fundamental nature. Yet, in most cases, even in people who are inconsistent or ill-formed, there is a tendency to prefer a just outcome to an unjust one, even if they aren’t always clear what a just outcome is.

zeus2If our understanding of God looks like Zeus, it is likely that we have missed the mark. Throughout the Sacred Scriptures, God continually reveals himself in contrast to the false gods of the other nations. He reminds Israel that He is not like the fickle gods that the surrounding people serve and demonstrates His steadfastness and trustworthiness in the face of idols that demand all sorts of evil from their followers. God cannot exercise “justice” of the type that Zeus or Roger Goodall metes out because it is contrary both to his own nature and to the nature of the creatures he created. God doesn’t need to arbitrarily predestine people to hell out of a misguided sense of justice. It isn’t necessary for humans to lack a free will to ensure God is completely sovereign. God loves the creatures He created and He affords us dignity, not because we are worthy on our own, but because He has given us that worth from its creation. God doesn’t rig justice against us, but brings about the perfection of justice to the entirety of His creation. The final judgment ensures that no matter what has happened, true justice will ultimately be done.

If your God looks like Roger Goodell, you might want to rethink your theology.

This article, NFL JUSTICE: Roger Goodell, Zeus, and the Justice of God is a post from The Bellarmine Forum.
Do not repost the entire article without written permission. Reasonable excerpts may be reposted so long as it is linked to this page.

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Randon LeDescale

Randon LeDescale is the former Director of New Evangelization at a large Catholic parish. His interests include Philosophy, Theology, and pipe smoking. He and his wife are the proud parents of four kids.

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