NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has a problem. He may not think he has a problem, but he has a problem. The job of Commissioner of the National Football League is one of the most coveted CEO positions in all of sports, if not big business. And make no mistake, professional football IS big business. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice once said it would be her dream job.
To be “King” of professional football you have to be anointed by the 32 Lords across the gridiron fiefdom. Once crowned, you answer directly to the interests of those that put you on the thrown. It’s all about serving the ownerships across the League and building upon the shared interests that is the NFL.
But somewhere between negotiating CBA’s and signing TV contracts comes the responsibility of keeping the tarnish off the shield. To a degree it’s one of the most unenviable tasks of the position. Goodell has developed somewhat of a reputation as a “hard liner” when it comes to maintaining the image and wellbeing of pro football’s collective. As a result it’s the “King’s creed” against the “kingdom’s subjects”, in this case the Players.
That’s why when one of the League’s “shiniest knights” took a stab at the King, you had to wince just a bit. This wasn’t just some peasant on the Practice Squad. These comments came from one of the “noblest” representatives the NFL has to offer.
- 6× Pro Bowl (2004, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2010,2011)
- 4× All-Pro (2006, 2008, 2009, 2011)
- Super Bowl champion (XLIV)
- Super Bowl MVP (XLIV)
- 2× AP NFL Offensive Player of the Year (2008, 2011)
- 2× NFC MVP (2008, 2009)
- 3× NFC Offensive Player of the Year (2006, 2008, 2009)
- 4× FedEx Air Player of the Year Award (2006, 2008, 2009, 2011)
- AP NFL Comeback Player of the Year Award(2004)
- AP Male Athlete of the Year (2010)
- Sportsman of the Year (2010)
- Bert Bell Award (2009)
- Co-Walter Payton Man of the Year Award(2006)
- Academic All-America Player of the Year (1989)
- Purdue’s Leonard Wilson Award for unselfishness and dedication
- Stanford Graduate School of Business for NFL Business Management and Entrepreneurship in 2008.
New Orleans Saints QB Drew Brees
This player sits at the Round Table and is the leader of all SAINTS – QB Drew Brees. Brees told Sports Illustrated’s Peter King in a recent interview that “Nobody trusts him”, referencing NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. “I’m not talking about a DUI, or using a gun in a strip club, which are pretty clear violations. I think there’re too many times where the league has come to its decision in a case before calling a guy in, and the interview is just a facade. I think now if a guy has to come in to talk to Roger, he’ll be very hesitant because he’ll think the conclusion has already been reached.”
The “GEN Y” gap
That’s a problem. Today’s generation of young person already has a skeptical eye on authority and title. (Recall an earlier TFE post about managing today’s players “Can the NFL negotiate through this GEN Y gap?”) Much of what is learned by young NFL players is passed down through locker room and off the field conversations with veterans of the game. Even the older generation of NFL players has felt a bit mired in the “push-pull” dynamics of dealing with the League and Veteran Player Benefits.
So when a person, not to mention player, the caliber of Drew Brees speaks out about the trustworthiness of the man atop 345 Park Avenue, the 32 Lords (owners) should take notice. The NFL, perhaps even their counterparts at the NFLPA, will argue there is a workable “process” that goes into the decisions the Commissioner makes regarding player discipline and other related matters. But comments like these, made by one of the more respected and accomplished active players, can‘t do anything but erode the confidence of the rest of the player pool in the pro football’s leadership.
Building trust in the NFL League Office
Cracks in the castle walls may seem minor at the moment, but towers will tumble if not spackled quickly. The Commissioner of the NFL represents ALL of professional football’s interests (that includes players). I’m not saying that what happened in New Orleans should be overlooked or condoned. But perception is reality, and reaching out with a little “benevolence” might go a long way in repairing what I see as a growing problem for Commissioner Goodell – maintaining the respect and trust of the players. Not necessarily for himself personally, but for the standing and status of his position as leader of the realm.