By Tim Baffoe–
(CBS) I’m not a fan of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. You shouldn’t be either, though I assume few are ever big fans of most sports commissioners.
Goodell is the son of a former United States Senator who has a degree in economics and has parlayed those achievements into another walk of life similarly devoid of recognition of the humanity of others. Besides making insanely wealthy men more gobs of cash, his job has included being extra gray on the game’s role in debilitating-and-sometimes-fatal brain injuries, defending the racist name of one of his league’s teams and being grossly inconsistent and insensitive toward the league’s issues with violence toward women.
He has been compensated for his efforts more than $212 million by the NFL since 2006, more than any major sport athlete in that time in America besides Alex Rodriguez and Kobe Bryant. For how the NFL has profited in his tenure and without stopping to consider any inherent moral issues with a person working on behalf of benefitting 32 plutocrats by any means necessary, he deserves that money. He doesn’t deserve your respect, unless you’re a vapid person who ascribes respect to money.
Yet the NFL, being the NFL, looks like it might find a way to even make Goodell the lesser of two evils soon. There was a conference call among 17 team owners last Thursday, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, in which there was discussion of halting extension talks on Goodell’s contract.
The owners on Thursday’s conference call are generally unhappy with Goodell and the NFL’s front office for a variety of reasons, including the player protests staged during the national anthem, issues regarding the relocation of teams to Los Angeles and the league’s handling of the Ray Rice domestic violence case, according to sources.
“You don’t get to have this many messes over the years like Roger has had and survive it,” one owner said during the call.
The Rice issue and Goodell’s handling of various alleged violent players would be a valid beef if they weren’t also the 32 individuals who rarely have a problem putting talent above off-field issues if the wins and subsequent dollar rewards outweigh the risks. When somebody else’s player is an exceptionally bad person, then it’s an issue to 31 of them.
As far as the Chargers and Rams moving to Los Angeles and nobody there really caring, yeah, it’s part of Goodell’s job to stir up greater interest. It’s also on the owners who approved both moves to foresee that few gave a crap about NFL teams coming back to Los Angeles besides fans in San Diego and St. Louis whose hearts have been broken in favor of owners Dean Spanos and Stan Kroenke putting dollar prospects over loyalty. The Rams are 27th in the league in average attendance this season, and the Chargers are last.
“Definitely a basketball town,” Rams running back Todd Gurley told SI Now last week. “Hasn’t been football over here in 20 years. So you just can’t expect someone to just start coming to football games all the time. And I heard the traffic for football games is probably the worst, so I’m pretty sure why people don’t come to the games as well.”
If Goodell has told Spanos and Kroenke about the traffic, would that have led the two to stay put? Is it Goodell’s fault that there actually exists a major city that doesn’t hump the shield and showed you so when two teams left there years ago?
But the NFL owners really shining their brightest is in taking Goodell to task for the player protests. It’s essentially Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones leading the angry old man parade against players exercising their First Amendment rights in using their celebrity status to speak up for American citizens being executed by agents of the government, among other societal issues. (Jones, you’ll recall, has defended signing Greg Hardy and fought hard to allow Ezekiel Elliott to play. But the Ray Rice incident was the problem, remember.) And Jones and several other owners want someone to take these players over their knee and give them a good daddy spanking, and Goodell has been hesitant to do that, like he’s hesitant to do anything when it’s extremely high profile, which might suggest that there’s something human in the otherwise gross Goodell, which in NFL terms is a problem.
“That was our recurring theme, that there’s no leadership,” an executive told Schefter. “Everyone (in the league office) is trying to win the latest news cycle, and there’s no long-term vision. It’s just, ‘How can we minimize the bad headlines, maximize the revenue and move on to the next day?’ And there’s an increasing frustration to that approach.”
And while revenue is the end-all, be-all and TV ratings are slightly down this year for reasons beyond player protests — like cord cutting and oversaturation — uppity players with a social conscience are a thorn in the billionaires’ sides more than figuring out how to get more people to watch games in London on a Sunday morning (how about a church broadcast at halftime?). This was further confirmed by Texans owner Bob McNair’s comment during a meeting between Goodell, owners and league executives two weeks ago of, “We can’t have the inmates running the prison.”
After the blowback for the loaded choice of words, McNair attempted to assign the context of that comment to the NFL front office vis-à-vis the owners, yet the metaphor doesn’t really then fit if you think about it for more than two seconds, and McNair got in a subsequent argument at the meeting with African-American former player and league executive Troy Vincent about it, with McNair later pulling Vincent aside to apologize to him for the comment.
Led by Jones, many owners can’t stand the perceived insubordination of players during the superfluous national anthem festivities. When Jones tried to dilute the issue by joining his team on the field for a weekend of terrible forced PR stunts, he got nationally mocked. So at that meeting two weeks ago, Jones tried to get his peers on board with a league mandate on anthem behavior. He only got nine other owners, such as human stain Dan Snyder of Washington.
Some owners had tired of Jones always commandeering such meetings; some were jealous of his power and eager to see him go down; some saw the players-must-stand mandate as bad policy to invoke in the middle of the season; some owners were angry with Jones’ hard-line public stance on kneeling, feeling that it had backed them all into a corner. ‘The majority of owners understand this is important to the players and want to be supportive, even if they don’t exactly know how to be supportive,” one owner says.
Now, suddenly, Jones found himself in an unfamiliar position: He wasn’t getting his way. He knew it, and everyone knew it.
So now Yosemite Jerry is moving on to consarn-it-ing Goodell if he can’t get everyone else to light a cigar with him. He needs three-fourths of the owners on board with firing Goodell, and that’s not happening. In May, Jones was part of a 32-0 vote in favor of letting the league’s compensation committee proceed with talking extension with Goodell, and he would have only needed nine owners then to stop that.
Still, he has apparently stirred up enough owners to at least be thinking hard about an NFL without Goodell. More than half in the league, in fact.
Jenny Vrentas asked Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank, who’s also the head of the compensation committee, about the Goodell contract situation after his team’s win over the New York Jets on Sunday.
That’s a different vibe than where the process of getting Goodell extended was a month ago when that committee had a “very constructive call” and that a source told Schefter that an extension would be “completed in due course.” Even then, though, Jones had reportedly butted into the committee’s business, making himself part of that call after making it known for months that he thinks Goodell and other NFL brass make too much money.
Maybe Jones’ plan to get a better capo into the job to shut the lid on this rogue player decency is just to make the place too cold for Goodell and/or not worth the pay cut Jones seems to be gaining supporters for.
“Jones would have Goodell earn his paycheck and would hang any financial blowback from the protests around the commissioner’s neck,” Deadspin’s Barry Petchesky wrote last week. “There are costs for doing what you believe to be the right thing; there are costs for crossing Jerry Jones.”
And how awful only paying the NFL commissioner, like, $20 million next season would be.
Not as awful as Jerry Jones, the plastic face of paternalistic NFL ownership.
Tim Baffoe is a columnist for CBSChicago.com. Follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe. The views expressed on this page are those of the author, not CBS Local Chicago or our affiliated television and radio stations.