Roger Goodell the son of a U.S. Senator and from a prominent, politically connected family that obviously had a few markers to call in is the current commissioner of the National Football League. This means that just about every distasteful thing involving the NFL starts with “Today the NFL announced” and ends with “by Commissioner Roger Goodell”. So except for being the barer of bad news, getting really good seats at NFL Games and being interviewed by the “B” team at ESPN (Suzy Kolber is so underutilized), what exactly does the commissioner actually do?
Evidently, about 1925, the owners of the few pro football teams got together for a meeting in Canton Ohio and discovered to their chagrin that no one had remembered to bring coffee or donuts. During the informal meeting that followed, cut short no doubt by the lack of refreshments, the discussion centered on two basic issues: player salaries and player conduct. A major concern of the owners: better players kept jumping to other teams for more money. An aid to one of the owners explained free market economics to the owners who put the concept to a vote at which time it was soundly defeated. The owners were also upset that the fans seemed to hold the team owners accountable for the poor personnel decisions that allowed really good players to jump ship.
The player’s also seemed to constantly be in trouble with their families, the police, creditors and in more than a few instances, gangsters. What the owners needed was a lackey that appeared to be an unbiased third party but who was squarely in the owner’s pockets, who could be compelled to deal with personnel issues and find a way to control wages and deflect criticism from the owners. Further, the owners needed someone who could be depended on to bring coffee and donuts to future meetings. What the owners needed, according to Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary was a “Commissioner”.
It was at this meeting that the player contract was invented. The idea was fairly simple, the contract would keep players from jumping teams while allowing the owners to exercise complete control over player conduct and compensation. There was little in the contracts advantageous to the players and to give this thing an air of impartiality, the Commissioner would oversee the contract process. And if things weren’t already bad enough, the whole contract thing was now a legal matter which meant that attorneys would now join the feeding frenzy in sports along with gangsters, bookies and loan sharks. Most purists maintain that along with staph infections, anabolic steroids, groin injuries, and gonorrhea, the game would be far better off without attorneys.
As a practical matter, the owners of NFL teams do not care to sully their hands with the frequent public relations nightmares associated with player conduct. Like the time when Randy Moss repeatedly tried to run over that traffic cop in Minneapolis or when Plaxico Burris shot himself in the leg with a gun he wasn’t supposed to be carrying. Although in Plaxico’s defense, the gun was concealed. Once again, the owners handed these issues off to the “Commissioner”.
A final criticism often levied against the league was the piss poor officiating that is now an integral part of every game. Again, the owners passed control of the officiating to the Commissioner who immediately passed a series of edicts resulting in hefty fines to any foolhardy enough to criticize any call or official, no matter how bad. To ensure that the media did not dwell on these calls, the Commissioner’s office exercises control over the choice of broadcasters for NFL games which explains why Phil Simms, Joe Buck, Stuart Scott and Boomer Esiason still have jobs but does little to explain Tony Kornheiser's continued employment. Tony no doubt has a photograph of someone with a pony.
So the current commissioner Roger Goodell is handsomely compensated to take all the flak that should be directed at the owners while exercising “control” over the NFL’s day to day operations: player conduct, officiating, contract disputes and procuring refreshments at owners meetings. Which is to say, Roger is a go-fer that has really good seats at NFL games and probably hasn’t had an original thought since high school.