The first syllable in his last name accurately describes what Roger Goodell has been for the bottom line of the NFL owners who employ him. He’s been damn GOOD for business. And the NFL has been damn GOOD for Roger Goodell. Those owners pay him $44 million a year to be the conductor of their money train. As Gabriel Sherman wrote in a recent profile of the Commissioner in GQ Magazine titled, “The Season from Hell. Inside Roger Goodell’s Ruthless Football Machine”:
“By one measure—money—Goodell has been the most successful commissioner in the history of the league. Since landing the gig eight years ago, he has made the NFL more powerful than ever. Total league revenues have grown about 65 percent; the value of franchises is at an all-time high. (Goodell has told the owners that he wants to increase revenues to $25 billion over the next dozen years.) Last year, he persuaded the owners to settle the concussion lawsuit with more than 5,000 former players for $675 million. “God knows what the owners thought they were liable for,” a veteran league executive told me, suggesting that they were prepared for the possibility that they might have to pay more. “They look at it as a cost per team: So we’re capped at what, $25 million each? That deal alone should solidify Goodell’s legend.” (The deal was so good, in fact, that the judge in the case later ruled that the cap was unfair to players and threw it out.)”
When the money flows like that, nobody wants to turn off the spigot. But there’s more to leadership than wringing out the last short-term dollar for what could be damaging long-term results. And Sherman asks the question, “is Goodell the right man for the job.”
It’s a job Goodell coveted most of his life. One of the more eye-opening parts of the story reveals that Goodell told the owner of the bar he worked at during his college years that he intended to become commissioner of the NFL. Aiming high isn’t usually a bad thing, but if your lifetime goal before the age of 21 is that high, it’s fair to wonder if he did whatever it took to get there.
He aggressively worked his way into the league as an intern in the public relations department and quickly rose through the ranks. The NFL, like any business, wants the highest possible revenues. Goodell obviously and accurately saw the way to the owners’ hearts was through their wallets. Nothing got in his way as he rose to the top and now that he’s there, the almighty dollar seems to be his only concern.
But this past season, the dollar sign tunnel vision has been threatened. Nothing like the Ray Rice domestic violence case to kick off the year. And Goodell fumbled that kickoff – badly. As Sally Jenkins wrote in the Washington Post:
“Commissioner Roger Goodell first decided that knocking out your fiancée was a two-game suspension; he then decided when the whole world could see it was an indefinite suspension. That was about as clear as it gets: Harming your partner is one thing; harming league image is much more egregious.”
There were other abuse cases this past year, including Adrian Peterson whipping his four-year-old son with a stick – bad enough to make his genitals bleed. For a man who said in his annual state of the game address on Friday that he has a “responsibility to protect the integrity of the game”, it sure doesn’t look like he’s done that part of his $44 million a year job. The recent “Deflategate” controversy is just another brick in the wall.
I attended Goodell’s first state of the game news conference the last time the Super Bowl was in Arizona. The Patriots played in that one as well and were also embroiled in controversy at the time. Almost every question was about Spygate and every answer had little nutritional value. Most galling was his reason for burning all the evidence that the Patriots turned over. He said that way if anything else surfaced, he’d know the Patriots hadn’t been forthcoming with everything. Way to be transparent Comish.
At this past Friday’s news conference, it was suggested to Goodell that if most of us had a year like he’d had, we’d be asked to resign or be fired. Goodell said he couldn’t imagine either one. But it obviously takes time for things to sink in with him. Goodell talked about 2014 being a year of “humility and learning.” He said he learned about domestic violence by visiting shelters for battered women. Interesting that a man who just celebrated his 56th birthday needed to visit a shelter to understand that muscular football players punching out women is bad.
Another Super Bowl will bring record television ratings with 30 -second commercials sold out at $4.5 million apiece. And as Goodell contiues to bungle along, the owners, led by Bob Kraft of the Patriots will continue to defend him. Business is good.
But take it from Goodell’s former mentor Paul Tagliabue, commissioner from 1989 to 2005, the almighty dollar at any cost may not be worth in the long term. As he told Sherman about Goodell’s practices in the GQ story:
“If they see you making decisions only in economic terms, they start to understand that and question who you’re all about. There’s a huge intangible value in peace. There’s a huge intangible value in having allies.”
Not surprisingly, Tagliabue says he no longer has a relationship with Goodell.
The college kid who aspired to be king and became one, has allies in the 32 owners who’s pockets he lines. But as the integrity of the game further decays under his watch, we’ll see how long those allegiances last.