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How long has Roger Goodell been the NFL commissioner? What does he do?

With a fortune that kings dream of, and the power to match, the NFL commissioner is under the world’s gaze as the league’s enforcer at the highest level

This photo provided by the NFL shows NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, left, talking with Sam Rapoport, the league's senior director of diversity, equity and inclusion, in New York, Aug. 27, 2021. For decades, the road to the NFL for women has been fil

Often referred to as “the most powerful man in sports”, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has seen more than his fair share of controversy. In the shady bureaucratic and quasi-political world of NFL franchise ownership, being an insider can bring much bigger success than most people can dream of.

What does the commissioner do?

It is easy to imagine the National Football League as a grassroots movement, a natural springing up of the people to mount a competitive league amongst communities. In this idealised fantasy, modern teams with their bloated salaries and astronomical incomes are the aberration, the cancer that sits on top of a community game. In fact, the reverse is true. The NFL is a brand, a corporation, that has created modern American football as a moneymaking venture.

The league is built on a franchise model, and all of the teams are required to keep within a tight framework of rules set out by the corporation itself. The brand is vigorously defended and players, coaches, and even owners have been sacrificed to keep that brand on track. In this type of system, as in all business, you need a hatchet man, a defender of the faith, the NFL owners’ well-paid fixer, a man who cleans up their mess. A Winston Wolf made flesh, if you like, for the sports world.

The commissioner is the public-facing figurehead, some might say a corporate schill, for the owners. He is, after all, paid by the owners to the tune of $2 million per year off of each franchise in the league. It falls upon him to moderate disputes and enforce punishment, and for this he is regularly booed in public. You may even say that this has become something of a tradition.

What is Roger Goodell’s background?

The son of a New York senator, Roger Goodell has a natural silver-spoon ring about him. He is a lifelong NFL employee with the bluest of bloods. A multi-millionaire who is rarely seen outside his luxury box at games, Goodell has become a sort of avatar in the popular mind for "The Man”. His father’s congressional career came to an end in the 1970 elections because Republican voters disliked that he dared to openly oppose then President Nixon’s involvement in Vietnam, and the son has shown some of this grit, making often unpopular stands on policy to the chagrin of, well, nearly everyone.

When owners met in summer of 2006 to select a replacement for outgoing commissioner Paul Tagliabue, 185 names were floated for the first ballot, including such illustrious ones as Condoleeza Rice and Jeb Bush. Over five separate ballots, Goodell rose to see off all competitors and take the reins on August 8th of that year. During his term, he has faced perhaps more scandal than any other commissioner in history, with Spy Gate, Deflategate, Bountygate, the 2011 lockout and the 2012 referee lockout. He headed negotiations with the Players Association over traumatic head trauma, eventually reaching a $765 million dollar settlement. His most criticised wrong step, he oversaw a rule implementation requiring players to stand for the anthem, effectively throwing Colin Kaepernick under the bus. In light of the George Floyd murder, he has since walked back his stance on the issue.


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