NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s leadership style was profiled by ESPN THE MAGAZINE’s Don Van Natta Jr. under the header, “His Game, His Rules: How Roger Goodell Made The NFL Bigger, Richer, More Powerful -- And Now More Divided -- Than Ever Before.” More than 80 people were interviewed over the past five months for the story and Van Natta “obtained thousands of confidential documents” for the story. He writes the league has “never been more divided,” and at the center of “these swirling tensions is Goodell, whose decisiveness and relentlessness have come to define the NFL, for better or worse.” What is clear is that Goodell “is tasked with the seemingly impossible: make the game safer for the players, more exciting for the fans and more profitable for the owners.” If he has “any chance of meeting those three goals, he must find a way to repair the breach between him and many players, their union and fans.” At stake is “no less than the future of the game, and he knows it.” One of Goodell’s “greatest fears” is an NFL player is “going to die on the field.” Goodell within the past year has “told friends privately that he believes if the game's hard-knocks culture doesn't change,” a fatality could occur. A source said, "He's terrified of it. It wouldn't just be a tragedy. It would be awfully bad for business." Van Natta notes the NFL is a business Goodell “can take much of the credit for.” The league this year will “almost certainly exceed $10 billion in annual revenue for the first time, drawing closer to his goal of $25 billion by 2027 that he's shared privately with the owners.”
PERCEPTION IS REALITY: Goodell privately "is personable, down-to-earth, a good listener and a brilliant negotiator,” but he also has a “short fuse and can be hypersensitive to criticism of the league.” He sometimes “barks when asked to bend his principles,” and he gets “enraged when someone, even an owner, tarnishes the integrity of the game or challenges his judgment.” Former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, whom Goodell succeeded, said, "Roger comes off as uncompromising. In fact, he's a good compromiser. You put him in a room with a governor, public officials and others, and he does compromise. But in public, he comes across as uncompromising." Even his “bosses acknowledge Goodell's hot decision-making temperament.” Cowboys Owner Jerry Jones: "He'll flare. He's emotional, but I happen to like that. I think he's courageous. I think he has a big set of them. I think he's willing to step up and take the heat and take the risks. And he's willing to take the consequences." But Van Natta writes even following the "Bountygate debacle and the referees lockout, Goodell has put the league on notice: He's going to continue to be relentless.” Goodell acknowledges that after a “difficult year, he's taken a hard look at himself.” He said of the league’s relationship with the players, "I'm going to have to work harder to try to make sure we can work together, we can trust one another" (ESPN THE MAGAZINE, 3/8 issue).
TAKEAWAYS FROM THE PROFILE: Van Natta's story was featured on ESPN's "Outside The Lines" Sunday, and he said of Goodell, “The owners could not be more happy with him. ... But at the same time there are looming dangers that he has to deal with.” ESPN's Bob Ley said in terms of improving player safety, Goodell “has changed the culture of thinking” towards concussions. Van Natta: “He has, but the way he’s done it, has really ruffled the feathers of the union and the leadership. He has a very difficult relationship with (NFLPA Exec Dir) DeMaurice Smith … as well as many players.” The relationship between Goodell and Smith “has grown progressively worse since” the new CBA in ’11. Van Natta said Goodell “recognizes that he has a real problem right now, that there’s a breach between him and the players and he wants to do something about it” (“Outside The Lines,” ESPN, 3/3). ESPN’s Mike Greenberg said Goodell “believes, rightly or wrongly, the courage of his convictions, you make unpopular decisions and you stand up for what you believe.” Greenberg added, “I would say his No. 1 job description right now is to protect the league against what could be a financially crippling lawsuit.” He added Goodell has "people around him that he listens to, but he does not seem in any obvious way to be swayed by public outcry, which I consider to be a positive thing." Greenberg: "That’s sometimes what he’s criticized for.” Meanwhile, the thought of him worrying about an on-field death "shows you the dichotomy of his position." Greenberg said, "He has to make decisions because of the very real human concern that someone could get seriously hurt or killed on the field, and then the very practical financial concern of the devastation that would wreak on his league” (“Mike & Mike in the Morning,” ESPN Radio, 3/6).
CAN'T RECALL: In N.Y., Gary Myers reports the NFL has “disputed” the claim that Goodell’s “greatest fears is a player dying on the field if the violent culture of the game does not change.” NFL Senior VP/PR Greg Aiello said, “I don’t know anyone who’s ever heard him say that. I’ve worked closely with him for 24 years and have never heard him say such a thing. Beware of anonymous sources" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 3/6).