An NFL commissioner needs a strong resolve to wear the league’s crown because there isn’t a more difficult job in the sporting world.
Peter from the film Office Space complained heartily about having eight bosses. Roger Goodell has 32 NFL owners wondering what he's done for them lately despite having fleeced the NFL Players Association only two years ago.
And that's before you take into account that he's under constant and often unreasonable criticism from players, fans and media types (yes, even me). Like the President of the United States, we often expect him to fix every problem single-handily and immediately.
Although he does appear quite a bit autonomous, he still isn't the complete dictator he is often portrayed to be.
Be Careful What You Ask For
Paul Tagliabue had a nice little run, didn’t he? Football was on its way to prominence thanks to the Pete Rozell era and Tagliabue hit the sweet spot before social media and science caught up to the NFL.
Goodell didn’t get nearly as lucky. His ascension to the throne coincided with the social media boom and the 24-hour news cycle. And that instant, continuous news cycle means instant and constant access for the commissioner.
As a kid, the only reminder I had that Paul Tagliabue existed was his signature on my football. Now, random fans can retweet Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Roddy White’s impassioned response to the George Zimmerman verdict on Twitter so that it appears in the commissioner’s mentions.
The days of explaining that the boss is out of the country on a vacation doesn’t fly anymore. Now, he must make an immediate public comment regarding every incident that occurs.
The reactionary component of the job is a high-pressure tightrope act since any misplaced word will be pounced upon with fervor. Additionally, any delay will be met with speculation, allowing blogs to be the sole source of information until an official comment is made.
It’s no longer your grandpa’s league where star players can commit the drunken mistakes of a young adult without being exposed. The media today won’t ignore an embarrassing story in exchange for access to the athlete’s world (or playground). There’s too many “journalists” who are looking to quickly make a name for themselves.
This also isn’t your father’s league where the phrase “got his bell rung” used to elicit laughter. The long-term effects of playing have been exposed.
That brings us to the other situation requiring a response. The former employees of the league are encountering more physical difficulties as they age that stem from playing a sport designed to cause constant collisions.
The aging vets have launched lawsuits for compensation and the claims aren’t the modern version of the USFL’s anti-trust accusations or Al Davis’ ridiculous assertions. The evidence being accumulated in this case will shine a powerful light on the game’s very nature and the repercussions of building an empire.
“Oh, your league had a lockout? That’s terrible.”
That statement might be simplifying the troubles of the other leagues. But let’s take a quick look at Goodell’s counterparts.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has to struggle to keep all his franchises viable. That’s pretty intense but very few people will notice if the Phoenix Coyotes cease to exist.
Bug Selig keeps baseball chugging along and has the comfort of knowing its apex of cultural relevance has already passed. He just needs to continue to make modest gains in a couple places or float the idea of a Japanese-MLB All-Star matchup every once in a while. Anything for people to say, “Hey, that’s not half bad.”
And David Stern? Well, he doesn’t particularly care; so there’s that.
Plus, the NBA is in the best position it has ever occupied. Worldwide superstar LeBron James is at the height of his powers with a young, beloved Kevin Durant rivaling him every step of the way with an eye to takeover once LeBron starts backsliding.
With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility
With great money comes even greater scrutiny. When that scrutiny concerns someone else’s money, the situation creates a “hover” parent with an lots of time and resources.
And this isn’t putting someone’s pension in a hedge fund; the NFL is worth billions of dollars and all that has to be split up. Oh, and Goodell would be wise to continue to grow the pot as well.
The owners don’t want to hear about a saturated market. Not when people are suggesting that the league can continue its ridiculous rate revenue growth rate. So now he has to balance his response to every arising incident against keeping people, especially those in a demographic not already following the NFL, happy.
If he goes too hard, his “employees” get upset that Sheriff Goodell is being too harsh. If he fails to admonish the offender publicly, he runs the risk alienating new business because the public is not going to identify with a bunch of lawless players.
Basically, none of the other leagues can dream of the money that the NFL is pulling in. Therefore, Goodell’s job is the most difficult because the NFL ultimately has much more on the line than any other sport in the United States. He runs the only major football league in the world!
But don’t fret for Goodell. He is well compensated for his work.
As always, money is power, which is the final tip of the cap to Goodell. He dominates all other league honchos with his huge salary.
So don’t worry about Goodell. He’ll be fine.