Being the commissioner of any of the big four North American sports leagues can be a tough job.
On one hand, you're tasked with evolving and growing the game to leave it better than you found it. Two of the most successful commissioners were former NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle and NBA commissioner David Stern (at least until the last NBA lockout). Both saw their leagues grow exponentially during their tenures.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell could very well be on his way to joining those two amongst the best sports commissioners of all time. Right now, he's the best in North American sports.
Both Goodell and Stern faced lockouts a year ago. However, while the NBA's was contentious and had players fighting with owners and owners fighting amongst each other, Goodell had his 32 bosses showing a united front.
In the end, both the players and owners got what they wanted in the settlement. Owners got a bigger piece of revenue than they had before, signing large television deals with their current broadcast partners. This is due in part to the stability of a 10-year collective bargaining agreement that was signed.
The players wound up getting the same salary cap that had been in place since 1993. More importantly, new player safety initiatives meant the players received offseason programs that feature much less hitting and fewer full-contact practices. They will also be able to remain in the league's medical plan for life.
It's in the area of players' health that has made Goodell not only the best of all the sports commissioners, but also has already had him surpass his predecessor Paul Tagliabue.
It was under Tagliabue's watch that most of the research linking concussions suffered while playing football to brain damage started to come out. During that time, the NFL seemed to have turned a blind eye to the problem by just naming a token committee to investigate it.
In 2004, as reported in an ESPN magazine article, the committee actually stated that players returning to play after a concussion: "does not involve significant risk of a second injury either in the same game or during the season."
However, when Goodell took over as commissioner in 2007, he has been more proactive in player safety.
While many players and fans may scoff that the game has gone "soft" because of hard hits, Goodell penalizes the unnecessarily rough ones.
Under Goodell's tenure, there has also been a greater focus on concussion awareness. The NFL now acknowledges the real effects of concussions and has commissioned a new study on their long-term effects.
Meanwhile, his handling of the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal has been superb. While players who participated were punished, in the end, it was the coaches who encouraged the behavior who got hit the hardest. This was more important due to the fact that Goodell made the effort to not just punish the players, but to attempt to change the culture, which is usually set by the coaches.
You might not like seeing many of these changes in 2012; in fact, I've had mixed emotions about it myself. However, by being this proactive toward player safety, Goodell is doing what he can to ensure that the NFL and the sport we know as football will not only be around in 2062, but also be a safer game.
Like Rozelle, Goodell is helping his sport and his league evolve. You can't really say that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, Baseball commissioner Bud Selig or the aforementioned David Stern are doing the same thing.
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