Check That: Roger Goodell Is a Lousy Politician, Too

In the past, on several occasions, I have referred to Roger Goodell as a good politician but a lousy NFL Commissioner. Turns out, he’s not much of a politician, either.

Charged with convincing fans that the 18-game schedule is something we want*, and that safety is among the league’s top priorities, Goodell’s actions don’t match his words.

It’s not a perfect analogy, but work with me: in many ways, Goodell is like George W. Bush. The main difference, as best I can tell, is that while Bush was widely considered a failure at governing (like Goodell), his PR machine was unrivaled at getting out the message faster and louder than the opposition.

Goodell and the NFL, on the other hand, are currently losing the public-relations battle, and it’s not like DeMaurice Smith has some Rovian media strategy. Just the opposite. When you boil it down, Owners vs. Players is basically a political campaign. And when it comes to spreading the message, Smith has been unimpressive. Thankfully for the union, just not as unimpressive as his counterpart. Goodell’s words and actions paint him as an out-of-touch, greedy, rich guy trying to get richer on the backs of the players.

Let’s be honest: as Peter King has written previously, this is a fight between billionaires and millionaires. It’s not health care reform; lives won’t hang in the balance if a new labor deal isn’t struck by March 4. But that’s not the point. It’s about there being no football next fall because of avarice. And right now, the fans appear to support the players.

I wonder if the owners are at all troubled by this. I would have to think that they are since Goodell’s principal job is to sell us on the value of change. As it stands, I’m not sure how he could do a worse job of that.

Luckily, Goodell has the media in his back pocket, most notably Peter King, who announced Monday that he will have a 7,000-word story in Friday’s Sports Illustrated where he genuflects in the commissioner’s direction for his relentlessness and hard work. If Monday Morning Quarterback was a preview, it will be a one-sided PR piece akin to a pre-election political commercial but without the “Candidate X endorses this message” disclaimer.

(Also worth noting: hard work doesn’t equate to being good at your job. No idea how that’s not obvious.)

But fans aren’t stupid (most of them, anyway). When Goodell calls out Ben Roethlisberger and Donte’ Stallworth months after they had served their punishments (and by all accounts, stayed out of trouble), it raises questions about the commissioner’s ability to competently perform his duties. In the middle of what amounts to a political campaign, what good can come of speaking publicly on matters of player discipline? If the plan was to have it backfire in the NFL’s face … well, mission accomplished. (All that’s missing is to have Goodell standing on an aircraft carrier announcing the NFL has won.)

And backfired it has. Peter King had to issue a correction regarding Goodell’s comments that Steelers teammates did not support Roethlisberger this summer. And in hours since the correction, it’s been open season on the NFL. During NFL Network’s Media Day telecast, Deion Sanders offered this frank assessment: “Isn’t it something that Commissioner Goodell can tell Peter King, ‘Look here man, you better get this right.’”

King eventually got the quote right but Goodell still looks like a schmuck. But he had to know this would happen, right? If not, god help us all. Because then we’re dealing with someone so out of their depth that they’re liable to do anything. A loose cannon, making decisions on a whim, with no interest in the long-term ramifications.

Lessening Goodell’s credibility: players — most notably on the Steelers — speaking out. Hines Ward has been beating this drum all season and in a recent interview with GQ he didn’t mince words: “To say the league really cares? They don’t give a f*ck about concussions. And now they want to add on two extra games? Are you kidding? Come on, let’s be real.” (That entire article is an indictment against what the NFL is trying to do. In terms of spin, the players accomplished more in a few hundred words than Goodell has been able to manage in months of gum-flapping.)

Revisiting the political campaign analogy one last time, if the NFL knew what it was doing, it would have immediately issued a response, one that painted Ward as a fringe whackjob who has made his living injuring opponents. (Hey, it’s politics, the gloves are off. If Goodell is going to call out Roethlisberger and Stallworth — and inadvertently mobilize other players in the process — he might as well talk shit with a purpose.)

Instead, silence. Although saying nothing might be in Goodell’s best interest. Pretty sure comments like these don’t help his cause: (via Doug Farrar’s labor report from January 11):

In what may be the most unreal consequence of the players’ health insurance running out in the event of a lockout, there are pregnant players’ wives asking Fujita if they should induce labor before the lockout. When Goodell was given these concerns months ago by the players, his response was, “Well, you’ll want to get something done (in the CBA) then, won’t you?” I’m really surprised someone didn’t punch his lights out for that one.

I eagerly await Peter King’s response.

There is an upside to all this, even if we might be without football in a few weeks: for now, the labor talks have taken the attention away from the always vapid week-of-the-Super Bowl storylines.

“Big Ben’s redemption!”
“Aaron Rodgers’ shaking the Favre monkey off his back!”
“Inez Sainz is a serious journalist!”

Or worse (via @xmasape):

So in that sense, we’re all winners this week. Well, all of us except Goodell and the media that has kindly bent over for him. (Obvious exclusion: Bill Simmons)

* Some fans are, in fact, in favor of an 18-game season. I recognize that. I also recognize that Goodell is talking out of both sides of his mouth about player safety, and it’s that hypocrisy that bothers me. And, apparently, Hines Ward.

This entry was posted in 2010 steelers and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.
  • Anonymous

    The battle is between millionaires and billionaires, but there are people caught in the crossfire whose lives, in the form of livelihoods, do hang in the balance. Consider the eighth assistant to the Bengals’ linebackers coach; consider some fact checker for the Wichata Times sports page; consider the guy who sells beer at Heinz Field. I’m not saying these people wont be able to find other work, but a stoppage would place an unanticipated hardship on them.

    • ryan

      Nope, that’s a great point.

      As way of an update, these tweets from Doug Farrar just now:

      “Bad news, peeps. The lockout just grew legs. RT @gregaiello Special Master Burbank refuses to bar NFL’s access to 2011 contracted TV revenue.”

      and this:

      “The NFLPA will appeal the ruling, but the fact that the owners now have TV money on a no-matter-what basis means that they can play chicken.”

      And I guess that explains why Roger Goodell can say whatever he wants without worrying much about the repercussions. Brilliant.

      • Stephen

        Well, not whatever he wants.

        Example: Goodell wouldn’t call out Ward or any other player because that’d be a guarantee that particular fanbase, in this case, the vast Steeler Nation, would be stoutly in favor of the players in the (seemingly) inevitable lockout.

        Guaranteed money or not, that’s not a position the owners want to find themselves in.

        • Dean Keaton

          I’m still not sure it matters one bit which side the fans are on.

          I for one am more of a supporter of the owners on this one, because the players took them to school in the last negotiation, and I think the players are overpaid anyway.

  • ryan

    Just tweeted this:

    Poor Peter King. Roger Goodell throws him under the bus next to Big Ben and Donte’ Stallworth.

  • Anonymous

    Good you recognize that some fans are in favor of the eighteen game schedule. I expect even more have a better opinion of President Bush than you do, which creates a problem for your analogy. The idea of an analogy is to show something unclear in the light of something clear. Doesn’t work here for many people, which defeats the whole structure of the analogy.

    • ryan


      Perhaps I could have used a better analogy, yes. And my political leanings are left of center.

      While I don’t want to turn this into a political discussion, there was a point near the end of his presidency where Bush’s approval ratings hovered around 33 percent. I’m guessing not too many more people than me had a favorable opinion of him when it came to doing his job. And in that regard, he and Goodell appear to be very similar. If you’d like, I can change Bush to Jimmy Carter. I can admit that he wasn’t very good at governing, either.

    • David

      Israel, well said. This was interesting from EB today (take it with a grain of salt, b/c whoever heard of a scientific poll in Hollywood Reporter?):

      — Most of America is rooting for the Packers? According to a scientific poll published in the Hollywood Reporter they are: “Americans are rooting for the Packers 45/39 over the Steelers.· Packers backers: GOP, whites and MW + West. Steelers backers: Democrats, minorities, East + South.” The poll carries a lot more interesting information and opinion.

  • drinkingclub

    I thought Goodell was ok before this dust up. Why would a commissioner ask a player’s opponents about what sort of suspension a player should receive, then months later tell Peter King about it in an interview. Ridiculous.

    As to the 18 game schedule and concussions, I agree with Ward, and I think his example of Westbrook was perfect. 18 games are too many, hell, I think they should go back to fourteen games.

  • ryan

    Here’s the link to David’s Hollywood Reporter poll. My favorite bit: “The results show that Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is the most disliked player going into Sunday’s game and the fourth most disliked player in the league — behind Brett Favre, Michael Vick and Tom Brady.”

    Love that Brady somehow found his way on that list.

    • Dean Keaton

      How is Ray Lewis not on that list?