The NFL needs a fresh start and a new face. It’s time for commissioner Roger Goodell to go.
It’s not working anymore, and it’s fair now to wonder if there’s any way he can repair his image with the fans and his trust with the players.
It’s not just a matter of the sonorous booing of his appearance at the Super Bowl trophy presentation — which was a clear voicing of the only emotion New England and Atlanta fans could share that day.
Nor is it the demeaning way he’s heckled every time he steps to the podium to announce draft picks.
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He doesn’t need to be popular to be effective. But he’s well below unpopular now. And that may make it hard to solve some of the league’s problems moving forward.
Goodell might still have the confidence of the owners and a worthy vision for the business side of this billion-dollar enterprise.
But he knows better than anybody that fans are fickle, viewership is aging, and if this thing starts to slip, it has a long way to fall.
When he took over in 2006, he seemed a more relatable figurehead than the outgoing Paul Tagliabue. Goodell committed to expanding revenue sources and assuring franchise-value accretion.
He has succeeded to extravagant degrees in those regards.
But he also cited the need to protect the integrity of the game, to guard “the shield” — the NFL’s symbolic image.
In that, he has failed.
The guy who seemed so player-centric when he started giving the bro-hug to draft picks has broadly lost their trust through inconsistent rulings on suspensions, fines and penalties; by being tardy with his concerns for player health and safety; and by being inconsistent with his rulings on domestic violence issues.
In the cases of Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, Greg Hardy and Josh Brown, appalling headlines met with erratic punishments.
Heavy-handed rulings on players and programs in New Orleans and New England alienated more fan bases. And when some punishments were overturned in court, it eroded the credibility of his power of enforcement.
Goodell sold owners on his idea of expanding the NFL into a global concern. But what about the disenfranchised fans in St. Louis and San Diego and soon, perhaps, Oakland? Goodell said the league had fought to keep those franchises rooted. But to what end?
Granted, he is a politician, and his sole constituency is 31 owners and a small town in Wisconsin. If he keeps them happy and wealthy, he keeps his job.
But as a politician, he’s lost his edge.
Goodell’s state of the league address at the Super Bowl last week was a hesitant and sometimes awkward display.
When asked about the recent political developments, Goodell looked ill. The question was at least partially relevant given a number of Muslim players in the league, and the league’s attempts to gain a foothold in Mexico.
“As commissioner of the NFL, I’m singularly focused on the Super Bowl right now,” he said.
It had all the sincerity and sensitivity of “I’m only here so I don’t get fined.”
Everyone can understand why he’d love to avoid politics in that situation. So his artless dodging wasn’t the biggest issue. It’s that he seemed so poorly prepared for it, as if he hadn’t noticed that even the thinnest veil between sports and society has been pulled back.
Maybe his having been paid a reported $150 million over his first eight years as commissioner has made him less relatable. Maybe he has done too good of a job taking the fall for the decisions of a group of owners with varied motives.
But this image is a huge problem, certainly as so many players (and even an owner) are willing to mock the commissioner.
Goodell’s contract runs through 2019. He’s made some efforts to modify his approach, perhaps even giving up some of his powers as judge and jury in some regards.
It’s hard, though, to see him salvaging his image or repairing the connection with so many who have been alienated.
He was a good commissioner for a time and for certain purposes, but the time has changed, and the shield is getting tarnished in the process.