Today marked the 10th anniversary of Roger Goodell being appointed as the Commissioner of the National Football League. In that time there has been a hell of a lot going on in the NFL and as the man who is charged with making these changes, all of the fallout comes back to Goodell, good or bad.
As you may have picked up, if you are an NFL fan, Goodell is not the most popular person in the NFL community. If you have ever watched the NFL draft you’ll have witnessed the fans’ opinions of Goodell. It seems that no matter what he does, it’s met with abuse. But is he really that bad?
Let’s start with the stuff that has given him a bad reputation.
Since I became a fan of the NFL, I have often heard the NFL being called the ‘No Fun League’ thanks to several changes Goodell has made. The biggest reason for this is some of the league’s ridiculous rules regarding kit and celebrations. Players like Chad Johnson and Terrell Owens were the league’s best entertainers. They consistently came up with new and ridiculous celebrations that were not exactly the best displays of sportsmanship or really that necessary, but they drew a huge following and public response and above all else, they were fun.
However, Goodell would often hand out huge fines for these celebrations and has now banned a long list of celebrations that now draw a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, including dunking the ball over the goal posts, just because Jimmy Graham is too strong…
I can’t say that I agree with the restrictions on celebrations, but I can at least see the reasoning against some of them.
Then come his rules on kit and equipment. I understand that as a league, the NFL wants individual teams to be matching and not have players advertising or supporting external causes/companies, but the players should be allowed a certain degree of individualism/personalisation. The most recent and peculiar cases of this were DeAngelo Williams and Cameron Heyward.
DeAngelo Williams’ mother unfortunately lost her battle with breast cancer, a cancer that the NFL supports for an entire month of the season by allowing teams to use pink accessories and sell Breast Cancer Awareness themed gear. Due to his close link with breast cancer, Williams is a huge supporter of the leagues efforts to support it, so much so that his hair is permanently died pink and his toe nails will always be painted pink. However, despite his request to the NFL, he is not allowed to wear pink cleats, gloves or any other pink accessories during the rest of the season as it would be a uniform violation.
Heyward, his teammate, also lost a parent to cancer, his father. His father, Craig Heyward, had a nickname, ‘Ironhead’. Heyward saw the NFL as a platform to pay tribute to his late father by having Ironhead written on his eye black. Touching. Well, as far as the NFL is concerned, that is a uniform violation and deserved a $5,787 fine.
That, Mr Goodell, is not a good look.
Then comes certain other rules, for example, the darned catch rule. Week-in week-out we as fans are forced to sit through what feels like an eternity of replays about a catch or no-catch. Often times, it’s fairly obvious whether or not the player caught the ball, per the NFL rules though, not so much. It is infuriating when common sense is ignored and the result is unclear, inconsistent and changes the outcomes of games. That completely takes some fun out of being a spectator.
Though this has been a problem for a while, Goodell has done nothing in his time as commissioner to remedy that rule, if anything it has become more unclear.
Again, not a great job protecting/building your reputation, Comish.
Another trigger for displeasure among fans is the immense amount of controversy surrounding his power to hand out discipline and the different guidelines for different offenses.
In recent history, Goodell has come under fire for how he and league handled several different cases: Ray Rice, Josh Gordon, Adrian Peterson, Greg Hardy and Tom Brady. I do not want to get into the details of each case, but what it came down to was the fact that Goodell handed out suspensions that did not seem to be at representative of the offense committed. What’s more, there was not much consistency when addressing certain offenses, particularly domestic violence.
After Ray Rice a new domestic violence policy was agreed upon and put into place. Any employee’s first offense would result in a 6-game ban and a second offense would result in a life-time ban from the league. However, Greg Hardy was given a 10-game suspension for his first offence, which was then reduced to four games, and Ray McDonald was allowed to play until hearing but never received a suspension, whereas Rice, Peterson and Jonathan Dwyer were all unable to play by the leagues or teams choice.
The leagues inconstancy ultimately fell on Goodell’s shoulders and has made him very unpopular in many communities.
Enough about the bad though, there is plenty of good that he has done for the NFL.
He has made the NFL a lot of money. The NFL’s current revenues are predicted by Forbes to be around $13 billion a year. That’s $5 billion more than in 2010. This rise has come from a clear effort by Goodell and the NFL to create a profit-first, business like cooperation. The decisions they make all have serious monetary implications – they all involve making the NFL more money. NFL Europa was ditched as it lost money and it gave way for the NFL International Series which is growing and making the NFL a hell of a lot of money.
Not only do the NFL find as many ways to sell merchandise – think of all the different jerseys, accessories etc – but Goodell has been behind multiple incredibly lucrative deals for the NFL. He was behind the NFL’s $400 million deal with Microsoft for exclusive sideline technology. The NFL also has a $4 billion deal with DirecTV to allow users to watch every NFL game, among other deals.
Going back to the International Series, despite killing off NFL Europa, Goodell has been turning the NFL into a global sport in the years since then. Not only will there be a minimum of 4 NFL games played abroad for the foreseeable future, but there are incredibly significant talks of having an overseas franchise in London by 2021. Participation is growing worldwide, support is growing worldwide and more and more international players are making their way to America to play in the NCAA or go straight to the NFL. That is what Pete Tagliabue tried to accomplish with NFL Europa.
Goodell has also been at the forefront of making almost every stage of the NFL season a prime time or must watch event. The Scouting Combine and schedule release have their own shows which draw big viewing figures. He has also turned the NFL Draft into a 3-day, televised event and the first two days are shown in primetime. He has also changed when NFL free agency kicks off so there can be a TV show for people to keep track of free agent signings ad the NFL Honours is now also a 3-hour primetime event on the eve of the Super Bowl.
Aside from the money and popularity, Goodell has taken big steps towards increasing the safety of the NFL.
Last year, the NFL implemented a new system to diagnose and protect players during games. Having had a few hiccups, they adjusted it this year to implement penalties for teams and staff members who fail to abide by the protocol.
The league has also introduced rules to minimise head-to-head collisions which has led to more and more teams teaching new tackling techniques – such as the Seahawks completely buying into rugby style tackling. This is a huge step in the right direction for the league as it comes under more and more pressure regarding player safety. Though last night’s cancellation of the Hall of Fame game has received great criticism, it shows how far the league has come in terms of player safety, and it’s a damn good thing.
Finally, he got the absolute most out of Los Angeles as a bargaining chip, and has now brought the NFL back to LA and out of a struggling NFL city. What’s more, the NFL could have another team by 2018. With LA as a bargaining chip, by the time the Rams were brought back to LA, only the Rams, Raiders and Chargers had the need for a new stadium. Most teams are now playing in recently renovated stadiums or, in the Falcons and Vikings case, will be enjoying brand new, state-of-the-art stadiums in the coming years. This means going to a game is more of an event, it’s more comfortable than ever and it is more immersive than ever.
In conclusion, Goodell is by no means the fans, players or coaches’ favourite Commissioner but has he been a good NFL Commissioner? Yes. The league has continued to grow into one of the more powerful cooperation’s in the world and it is becoming a much more global game. There is more money, there are more fans and more and more NFL events are becoming primetime events. What’s more, it is becoming a safer league and there hasn’t been a drop off in competition or quality, in fact it has improved. So despite his reputation, Goodell has been very good for the NFL, and has set it up to just get bigger and bigger moving forward.
What do you think? Let us know in the comments!