Roger Goodell, who is also one of the 40 finalists for Time’s Person of the Year, is profiled in the December edition of the magazine. That profile by Sean Gregory shows Goodell to be a conscientious bully– “the Enforcer” as the piece is entitled–who now stands at the crossroads of the sport.
Goodell was the dumb high school jock, wearing the letter jacket, three sport star who was captain of the football, basketball and baseball teams as a senior. While the stereotype there might cast Goodell as a bully, he was the protector of his brother, and would engage in fisticuffs when necessary. From the Time piece:
When Michael sees gay kids committing suicide because of bullying, he reflects on how he could have been one of them. “I was the type who would have been beat up a lot,” Michael says. “It would have been humiliating. What would that have meant if I did survive it? Would I have done drugs? There are all sorts of things you can turn to just because of self-hatred and loathing. But none of that was even a possibility, because I had this support around me. So, yeah, Roger is very much a hero figure for me.” When I relay Michael’s words to big brother Roger, he tears up. “Ha,” he says, sniffling, unable to say much else. “That’s the first time I heard that. I didn’t know it had that much impact on him.”
If today’s NFL players think that Goodell’s hard line stance on player conduct is a recent thing, well, he’s been doing it for years. Back in high school, Goodell was also hard line on players partying. His athletic teams signed a pledge not to drink or cause trouble, or they would be removed from the team. Other players knew that he would turn them in if they did not stick to the pledge. His brother Michael recounts one party where players were drinking, and fled out the back door while Roger was coming through the front.
It is Goodell who now stands at the forefront of an important era for the NFL. Financially, the league cannot help but make money and is as popular as ever. The concussion lawsuits and scientific studies on CTE, though, cast doubt on the future if the sport remains the same. As noted by Sean Gregory, youth participation in tackle football is down 35% over the last five years. Just this year, I saw something similar in my local area, where tackle signups were way down, and the overall numbers were down, but flag football was increasing to the point they were considering adding age groups at the upper end.
These are the numbers that inform the future. I am not sure how true it is when Goodell says “I don’t do things for public relations, I do things because they’re the right thing to do, because I love the game.” That depends on what public relations we are talking about. I have little doubt the current safety measures regarding helmet hits, and kickoffs, are public relations measures designed to help the sport long term when it comes to parents and children at the youth level, Congressional involvement, and the pressure from these lawsuits. He is, though, taking wildly unpopular stands among current players, and among many fans who don’t want to see the sport changed. He also opens himself to criticism with the 18 game schedule proposals, which is largely decried by fans who don’t want to see the game changed under the cry of “player safety.” Hey, we can all be inconsistent there, no need to be in Time Magazine.
Whatever the case, his past shows that Goodell is willing to be a conscientious bully when it comes to doing what he believes in, something that came from his past as the athlete who served as protector and rules enforcer, and from being the son of a Senator who took an unpopular stand within his own party because he felt it was right. Whether he is right, and succeeds, only time will tell.