By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — This week, in a near-unanimous decision among team owners, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was granted a contract extension that could pay him up to $200 million over the next five years.
Hooray for Roger.
The news has many people perplexed, because most people struggle to understand how anyone in that position might realistically have a claim to a $40 million annual salary. This is a rational response, but perhaps not the reaction of anybody who’s been paying attention to the NFL over the last decade.
During that time, Goodell has elevated himself to near-king status. Like, for real. As in … not an exaggeration. The man aspired to be a king.
One of Goodell’s only life goals was to become commissioner of the NFL — seriously, he wrote to his father in 1981, “If there is one thing I want to accomplish in my life besides becoming commissioner of the NFL, it is to make you proud of me” — so it’s not altogether surprising that he’s set out to become the most high-profile, most involved and most-publicized commissioner in the history of the sport. The man’s got ambition. It’s a strange ambition, sure, but it’s ambition.
The owners, largely, have let him do what he wants. They have figured — correctly — that the more Goodell serves as the face of the league, the more people will look directly at him when things go sour. Bad stadium deals, franchise relocations, blind eyes to domestic violence, etc., etc., etc. Goodell became the good guy in every case he wants (Play 60!), but also had to play the role of the bad guy, even when it was the owners who were misbehaving.
Goodell has served dutifully as a shield for the owners — maybe that’s why he’s so obsessed with protecting the shield? — and for that, they’ve been happy to pay him whatever ludicrous salary he wants. And when you think about it, each team chipping in a little over a million dollars every year to fill that commissioner’s suit? That’s a drop in the bucket. Pocket change. Beer money. When you can charge $50-$100 for parking and $15 for a beer, and when TV networks pay you 14 gazillion dollars (actual figure) to air your product, you can afford such an expenditure — especially if it keeps the media and fans from ever really calling out your character and integrity.
So, in a strange, completely unfair way, Roger Goodell has “earned” that massive payday. That doesn’t mean we should forget everything he’s done so poorly during his tenure as commissioner.
Here are Roger’s Greatest Hits, presented as briefly as possible, in no particular order.
Oh I’m sorry did I say “no particular order”? Must have been a typo.
Anyways, “DeflateGate” was the most embarrassing fiasco in the history of sports. Under a competent commissioner, it never would have entered the public consciousness, because it was all based on nothing. But Goodell made it the Biggest Story In America™ for two full years.
He and his minions lied and got caught, but it didn’t matter. He still imposed an unprecedented and excessive penalty on Tom Brady and the Patriots, because he accused them of lying. He leaked and leaked and leaked as much as possible in order to dominate the national narrative. By essentially shredding the documents when the 2015 league-wide PSI tests showed that yes, indeed, science is real in our universe, Goodell and the NFL cheated. Yet he stuck to his guns with the punishment he imposed on Brady and the Patriots for “cheating.”
Most confounding, he wanted to have his cake and eat it too. After singling out Tom Brady for nothing and dragging him through the coals for two years and dedicating millions of dollars toward legal fees to ensure that the full weight of the NFL would be coming down on the player, Goodell said he has great respect for Tom Brady.
“I have a lot of respect and admiration for Tom,” Goodell said. “As I say, I admire him tremendously. He is a future Hall of Fame player.”
Is he a liar and a cheater, or is he a Hall of Fame player? Surely a man who claims to believe in “integrity” would never want a cheater and a liar in the Hall of Fame. Hmm, it’s almost as if Goodell knew that his entire crusade was all about gaining power, diverting attention from some truly despicable actions from the commissioner himself and the league at large, and nothing else than that.
The Ray Rice situation boiled down to this: the NFL knew everything that Ray Rice did to his then-fiancee in the elevator, and they — like the rest of the world — had seen the video of Rice nonchalantly dragging his unconscious partner out of the elevator. It was a horrific display of domestic violence.
But Goodell liked Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti, and Steve Bisciotti liked Ray Rice. (Someone from BaltimoreRavens.com actually wrote a story titled “I Like Ray Rice” to help foster some positive feelings toward the player.) And so, after sitting Rice down for a disciplinary meeting where Goodell just doodled in his notebook, the league told Rice to sit down for two weeks, in hopes that the country would just forget and move on.
And he was right … until TMZ released the footage from inside the elevator that showed the actual physical assault. It was only at that point that the Ravens and Goodell were appalled and disgusted and dismayed and shocked by the level of violence that took place. It was in that moment, in the late summer of 2014, that these powerful men finally understand that a man hitting a woman … was bad.
From there, the league went through a long process to try to show that it had no idea what had actually happened inside the elevator and that Rice had lied to them. They were proven wrong by police reports and notes from a union rep, but like with most things involving Goodell, that didn’t matter. Rice was banished by the league, and Goodell was officially put on the hunt for another “controversy” that might shift the attention from the league’s abysmal handling of domestic violence.
But wouldn’t you know it, the league didn’t actually learn anything. All those comments and statements about “being better” and “doing more” were all just lip service. The reality is that two years later, when presented with a case of a player admitting to domestic abuse, Goodell and the Giants tried to just sweep it all under the rug. Josh Brown was suspended one game, even though Goodell had introduced an automatic six-game ban for first-time offenders of the domestic violence policy. But, well, Giants owner John Mara had always been a great ally of Goodell, so maybe the commissioner could make an exception just this once and nobody would ever have to know the truth?
Fortunately for the sake of humanity, a New York reporter uncovered the information, thus forcing the NFL to scurry in a panic, as if all of the revelations were completely new information. The league placed Brown on the commissioner’s-exempt list before the Giants cut him, and the kicker was (like Rice) basically banished from the league.
Meanwhile the league tried to plead ignorance, despite Mara saying that the team knew Brown had abused his wife prior to signing him to a new contract, and despite an incident at a Pro Bowl that required intervention from NFL security. Another lie, another effort to conceal, another lack of consequence for the commissioner.
Worst of all, the commissioner implied that we were the foolish ones.
“I understand the public’s misunderstanding of those things and how that can be difficult for them to understand how we get to those positions,” Goodell told the BBC while avoiding American media in 2016.
That’s really something. And then to prove he means business against domestic violence, Goodell suspended Brown for six games this season … even though the 38-year-old kicker was not in the league anymore. Another bold decision from the $40 million man.
In what has become a recurring theme, Goodell repeated some of the same mistakes he made in “DeflateGate” in the case to suspend Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott. It’s almost as if he doesn’t actually “learn” and “improve” but instead tries to get away with as much as he can.
In the case of Elliott, that process involved ignoring the suggestion of the NFL’s lead investigator, who said that she didn’t find the accuser to be credible and that Elliott should not be punished. Goodell then excluded that investigator from the disciplinary meeting, where it was determined that Elliott would be suspended for six games.
None of us can know whether Elliott is guilty or innocent of what he’s been accused of doing, but no charges were filed, and the NFL’s own investigator deemed him to be not guilty. Goodell didn’t care much for that information and instead acted how he saw to be most advantageous for him and the league.
There’s been no more divisive figure in sports over the past two years than Colin Kaepernick. When he began protesting racial injustice during the national anthem last year, it immediately became a major story in the entire country. A proactive leader in Goodell’s position would have understood the sensitivity of many Americans to the flag and the anthem, and he or she would have reached out to Kaepernick to try to gain an understanding and perhaps find an ideal way that both parties could benefit.
Instead … Goodell just kind of let it linger, hoping it would go away. “Coincidentally,” every single NFL owner deemed Kaepernick to be unemployable, thus more or less ending his NFL career, thus making the problem go away. Right?
Welllllll, as everyone knows, ignoring a problem doesn’t make it disappear. And so when the president of the United States reignited the debate this season, dozens of players around the league showed their own frustration by kneeling during the national anthem before games. While opinions remain varied on the protests, those who find the protests offensive have loudly voiced their displeasure, and the entire situation may well be an issue that ends up cutting into owners’ profits.
And just like with “DeflateGate,” it could have been avoided if a wise, forward-thinking commissioner had been in charge when Kaepernick began his protest.
Replay review didn’t come about during Goodell’s reign, but it’s gotten completely out of hand while he’s been in charge. This year they’ve gone to a centralized replay center, and the results have only gotten worse. Lifelong fans no longer feel confident in many rules, and the mystery of what is a catch remains unsolved. Instead of admiring the athletes on the field for making world-class plays, we are all forced to analyze zoomed-in images of hyper-slow-motion footage to see whether a blade of artificial grass was contacted by a toe. The whole process is mangled — and that’s after Goodell stepped in to try to “fix” the problem.
What the … ?
WIFE’S ROGUE TWITTER ACCOUNT
It was reported earlier this season that a rogue Twitter account was being run by Goodell’s wife in an effort to fight back against those who are critical of the commissioner. The account had the username “@forargument1” and carried the name “Jones Smith.” Many people thought this act of devotion was cute, which is technically a fair opinion.
But it was also perfectly Goodell.
Jane Skinner Goodell, a former Fox News host, said that she created the account to try to fight back against media coverage that she deemed to be unfair. The irony of doing that by using an anonymous account with a fake name was apparently lost on her.
“Be more accurate and honest,” the anonymous account tweeted derisively.
When you’re very rich and very famous, occasionally some people will make fun of you. Heck, even if you’re not rich and famous, some people will still mock you. It’s part of life, and in the case of a public figure like Goodell, it comes with the territory.
But apparently he can’t handle it. Apparently, the mere sight of a Patriots coach wearing a shirt that depicts Goodell wearing a (children, avert your eyes, the following is NSFW!) clown nose sent the commissioner into a frenzy.
Come on, Roger. It’s a clown nose. On a T-shirt.
FEAR OF FANS
On a similar note, part of Goodell’s job involves visiting all of the stadiums in the league. He is, after all, supposed to be an ambassador for the league.
But he has a way of avoiding situations where he doesn’t think he’ll be well-received. If fans might say something mean to him, he’d rather not even bother. He avoided Foxboro, the home of the marquee franchise during his tenure as commissioner, for more than a year before surreptitiously slipping in for a preseason game and making a brief on-field appearance prior to a regular-season game before bolting faster than you could say “clown nose.”
He avoided New Orleans for a while after “Bountygate,” too. He just wants to take smiling pictures in tailgating lots and receive adoration. Anyone calling him out for anything? It’s just not as fun.
THE PIZZA SITUATION
Arguably the most egregious of Goodell’s crimes, the commissioner struck the fear of God into any employee who decided to eat pizza instead of cook up a way to make America overlook the Ray Rice situation.
From a Wall Street Journal report:
“Late into the night on Sept. 10, executives in the NFL conference room brainstormed over ways to prove the commissioner wasn’t covering up for Mr. Rice. Pizzas arrived but no slice was taken until Mr. Goodell ate. He never did, and the slices turned cold in the box.”
Roger Goodell … you monster.
What a nightmare. The NFL fought tooth-and-nail to not budge an inch during contract negotiations with on-field officials, because that’s what the NFL likes to do. The results were horrific.
For as much as we complain about the competency of the regular officials, their replacements were in many cases twice as bad. The NFL endured this, all to reportedly save $16.5 million. (Please keep in mind, that’s a league that will pay Roger Goodell $40 million per year.)
BREAST CANCER MONEY
In what is now a mostly forgotten story, it came out in 2015 that the NFL was mostly pocketing money on sales of all of that pink merchandise for breast cancer awareness.
From Business Insider:
The NFL “takes a 25 percent royalty from the wholesale price (1/2 retail), donates 90 percent of royalty to American Cancer Society.”
In other words, for every $100 in pink merchandise sold, $12.50 goes to the NFL. Of that, $11.25 goes to the American Cancer Society (ACS) and the NFL keeps the rest. The remaining money is then divided up by the company that makes the merchandise (37.5 percent) and the company that sells the merchandise (50.0 percent), which is often the NFL and the individual teams.
Then consider that only 71.2 percent of money the ACS receives goes towards research and cancer programs.
In the end, after everybody has taken their cut, only 8.01 percent of money spent on pink NFL merchandise is actually going towards cancer research.
The league also prevented running back DeAngelo Williams from wearing pink all season to honor his mother, who died from the disease.
Americans love America. American businessmen love America — and profits.
So, in a wonderful marriage of the two objects of desire, the NFL managed to find a way to cash in on displays of patriotism by accepting payments for the on-field and in-stadium ceremonies honoring the flag, veterans, and the branches of the armed services. The Department of Defense spent roughly $7 million over three years on the displays, according to research ordered by senators John McCain and Jeff Flake.
Before a quest to take down a franchise and a star player for allegedly slightly deflated footballs, there was the quest to take down a franchise and a head coach for allegedly trying to play football.
That’s an undersell, yes, because “Kill the head” is a terrible thing for football players to be instructed to do. However, Goodell’s overbearing level of punishment was without a doubt an effort to try to win a losing public relations battle. The league was in the midst of fighting retired players on a concussion settlement, and had to look as if it cared about player safety. This was the most convenient way.
Former commissioner Paul Tagliabue overturned all of the player suspensions, because they were absurd. Roger never asked Paul to serve as an arbitrator again. He was too fair.
THE ANTONIO BROWN VIDEO
I’ll never get over it.
Roger Goodell didn’t invent concussions. But for much of his tenure, he did little to even acknowledge their existence.
Rather than put words in Roger’s mouth about the dangerous, violent sport that takes place every weekend (and Thursday night!), let’s share what Roger had to say about the risk of playing football.
“If I had a son, I’d love to have him play the game of football. There’s risk in life. There’s risk in sitting on the couch.”
—Roger Stokoe Goodell, Feb. 5, 2016
(To anyone reading this story while sitting on a couch, we ask that you carefully put on a helmet and some elbow pads. We commend you for your bravery.)
NOT TAKING CARE OF FORMER PLAYERS
Obviously, the NFL is a business, and a massive business at that. And massive businesses cannot operate based on “what is right.” That’s not how big business works.
However, considering the unique factors of the sports world, perhaps an exception could be made for the players who sacrificed their bodies and/or their mental well-being to build the league into the massive success it is today.
The concussion settlement does not do that, and many former players and their families are left to spend their lives drowning in medical bills.
Reports in November said that most players had yet to see a penny from the settlement, which was reached and finalized 10 months earlier. But hey, at least some banks stand to profit on the settlement.
The whole matter is distasteful. Taking care of former players in need should be a hallmark of the league. But the owners and the commissioner can’t be bothered.
Ten years later, do you know what the worst part about “Spygate” is? It’s the fact that so much of it was handled without a shred of transparency, thus allowing everyone to play out any and all fantasies in their minds and accepting it as the truth.
Nobody really knows that the punishment involved the location of the cameras, not the content of the film. Nobody’s really aware that some of the footage played before reporters at a Goodell press conference in 2007; the story of the destruction of the tapes has instead lived on as the enduring memory.
It was all just so sloppy, and it was handled in such a way that it perfectly allowed elements of mystery and esponiage to carry the story.
And somehow, the lasting narrative of “Spygate” was that Goodell didn’t punish the Patriots hard enough … even though it marked the first time a team had ever had a first-round pick stripped.
During the week of Super Bowl LI in Houston, after members of the website Barstool Sports were banned from receiving credentials from the NFL, Goodell said he was “not familiar” with Barstool Sports. That’s despite the fact that multiple members of Barstool Sports got arrested for protesting at NFL headquarters, and despite the fact that Barstool Sports produced that infamous clown shirt.
After a congressional report indicated that the NFL interfered with a medical study from a government agency, Goodell claimed hours later that he had not seen the report.
Operating in deceit is just the commissioner’s standard setting, buying him time to come up with a bullet-point list which he can later memorize and regurgitate the next time he gets behind a microphone. It’s an unnecessary state of being, yet it’s his preferred mode.
Honestly, cataloging these things gets tiring, and that’s probably how the man has found so much success. (Oh, he approved the publishing of a series of Richie Incognito’s text message solely to embarrass the player.) (Oh yeah, and he shouted that Ted Wells was an “independent” investigator as loudly as he could, however often he could, only to later admit that he Wells was paid handsomely by the NFL. The league also retained Wells’ firm’s services for the appeal hearing … which Goodell rigged.) (OK fine, I’ll stop.)
No matter how bad a situation may seem, no matter how much he may have botched a decision, and no matter how many people are ripping him apart across every form of media, the man has shown a distinct ability to keep his head down and simply move on to the next matter at hand. And just like that, it somehow manages to disappear.
It’s a skill that’s been worth some $150 million in the bank and another $200 million on the way. Despite all of these crises, it remains very profitable to be Roger Goodell.