Thursday, September 06, 2007

Roger Goodell and the National Football League – We’re ready for some football

The 2007 National Football League season kickoff’s tonight in Indianapolis, a four star event that includes: "NFL Opening Kickoff 2007 Presented by Sprint" on NBC is scheduled to have a 30-minute pre-game concert featuring Faith Hill, Kelly Clarkson, Hinder, and John Mellencamp. Tonight also represents the start of Roger Goodell’s second season as NFL commissioner, a remarkable journey that was capped last August when the long-time NFL employee (22 years with the NFL) replaced Paul Tagliabue.

A lifelong football man himself, Goodell's election represented possibly the greatest single example of vision in the history of the sports industry.. Roger Goodell’s election sends a clear message to anyone interested in working in the sports industry – live you dream, never lose that dream and remain clear in the vision and destiny you believe your life holds for you. That is why Roger Goodell today will be entrusted with managing the $6 billion NFL.

In high school, Goodell, remembered sleeping with an NFL “Duke” football when he six years old, decided that his goal was to work for the NFL and perhaps someday become commissioner. Upon graduating from Washington and Jefferson, he began a letter-writing campaign to land a job in the NFL.

He wrote a total of 40 letters, starting with Commissioner Pete Rozelle and including one to every NFL team. In the summer of 1981, Rozelle instructed NFL Executive Director Don Weiss to interview Goodell. After one interview and several more letters from Goodell. He was offered a three-month internship in the NFL office that began in September of 1982 shortly before the start of a nine-week NFL players’ strike.

The following year, Goodell worked for the New York Jets as an intern in public relations and administration. Following that season, he was offered a position on the New York Jets coaching staff, but decided it would be better to return to the NFL office in 1984 as an assistant in the public relations department.

That is the definition of passion, dedication and a never-ending commitment to purpose.

"I spent my life following my passion," said Goodell, who worked his way from an intern in the public relations department to what is the most powerful post in American sports in an ESPN.com report. "The game of football is the most important thing. You can never forget that."

One of the few life lessons most people consider is to follow what they believe is their destiny. Granted most six-year olds don’t dream of growing up one day to become the NFL commissioner but it is an amazing story that one six-year old had that dream and never let that sway him from what he believed was his and his alone.

Goodell not only met expectations during his first year, he dealt with the many challenges that could have easily overwhelmed a lesser man. Goodell stood tall during his press conference at Super Bowl XLI making it clear to the assembled media (and at the same time sending a subtle message to NFL players) there’s a new sheriff in town and deviant behavior off the field would no longer afford players a guarantee they would be able to enjoy the privilege to play on Sunday’s.

Goodell’s worked at the NFL’s Park Avenue offices during the last five years of Pete Rozelle’s remarkable 29-year run as commissioner and worked closely with Paul Tagliabue’s 18-year run as commissioner. Michael Vick, Tank Johnson, Pacman Jones and Chris Henry, who are all serving lengthy suspensions under Goodell’s new no-nonsense NFL Player Conduct Code.

A fair question to ask Goodell– are the current issues the NFL is being forced to deal with in terms of its players behaving badly, represent a new clear and present danger to the future of the National Football League, or is Goodell simply making the players accountable for their actions off the field?

“Well, my 25 years, both Pete and Paul's tenure, there's no question that they've all had discipline issues to deal with, and they've had to deal with those, and they've been tough issues. In my first year, it's been something that we've seen a variety of things that have been -- that have arisen, that we went to our players, and the first thing we did is, What's causing this? What are the things that are causing you to make bad judgments, causing you to act in this way?
“And we got a great deal of feedback from our players, which was invaluable. And it helped us form the revised personal conduct that was put in place by Paul Tagliabue, my predecessor. I think it's a cultural issue, it's a societal change, and we have to be aggressive in dealing with this because this is a standard by which our fans expect us to behave.”

But as far as Goodell is concerned he doing what he believes is in the best interest of the National Football League even if it means people believe Goodell is a tough commissioner.

“It does 'cause I certainly don't rule the roost at home. And it's hard for people to understand that.
“I don't look at it that way and it's one of the reasons that I've gone out to our clubs to meet with our players, because I think there is a misperception of how I approach this job. One of the things -- one of the first things I did as I got this job is to make sure I went out and I got the perspective of the players. We have a player advisory council of active players which has never been done before in the NFL to help advise me, to give me feedback, not only on player conduct issues but on broader issues in the league.
“I think that's valuable to me. They are part of creating this personal conduct policy, and I think that's been important for them to understand.”

And for what it’s worth while Tagliabue has remained in the background away from the NFL, Goodell acknowledges that “Tags” has been supportive of Goodell’s no-nonsense approach.

“I haven't asked him directly, but I know he's very supportive of what we're doing. I think one of the things that both Pete Roselle and Paul Tagliabue taught me is you do what you think is right at the time because circumstances change and you have to make decisions which are in the best interest of the NFL, and that's what I'm trying to do.”

Michael Vick, Tank Johnson, Chris Henry and Adam Pacman Jones – one would like to believe Goodell can offer some unique insight into the complexities of human behavior.

“We really have to try to understand what causes human behavior. It's one of the first things we did is try to understand what's causing this behavior, what's causing these individuals to make the decisions they're making. And we have to remember, these are two thousand very young men that are being thrust into a spotlight with a large part being done with a significant amount of money, and their mistakes are going to be magnified. “And that's a big issue for us. So we're trying to provide resources to help them make better decisions.
“I think it comes down to one thing, Chris, for me, which is it's not about what you say, it's about what you do. And their actions are going to have to indicate what they're going to do to make better decisions going forward. “

Goodell didn’t have a great deal to say about the Michael Vick case (other than to note Vick remains suspended indefinitely) but if Michael Vick was wondering how the leader of the National Football League feels about dogfighting Goodell made his position very clear.

“The actions of being involved with dogfighting are reprehensible. I'm disappointed that anyone would be involved with it, much less an NFL player. That's disturbing to me.
“It's obviously disturbing, too, that that has created a negative image for our players, and I think that's wrong and I think it's unfortunate. This is an isolated case to Michael Vick from all the information we have. It's unfortunate that people are looking at it in a broader perspective.
“On the other hand, that may be the one positive that comes out of all of this, is that people recognize dogfighting is happening in our culture, and it needs to be addressed on a broader basis. It's a felony in 48 states. And I learned an awful lot about this over the last several months. And it's just a horrific thing.”

When broached with the idea of banning Michael Vick for life from the National Football League (SBN’s position is clear on that issue, it would be a gigantic mistake if Goodell took that route), Goodell steered clear of that possibility.
“I haven't, again, focused on where I see him several years from now or two years from now or one year from now. Again, he has to face the legal issues, then the National Football League will do what they think is in our best interest and our fans' best interest.”

That said a fair question just how could the Atlanta Falcons have been so blind, so ignorant for so long a period regarding Vick being involved with dogfighting. Last week Vick pleaded guilty to involvement with illegal dogfighting for the last six years – virtually his entire career as a member of the Falcons.

“It was six years of activity that also went below the radar screen of law enforcement, too. We're in the business of putting on professional football. This is very much an underworld. We've learned that. And unfortunately it's happening in our society. And we cooperate with law enforcement to try to do whatever we can when we're provided with information, and we have sought out information to make sure there's -- if there's something we should know, we want to know it at the earliest possible stage.”

“Dogfighting is illegal, it is wrong, it's despicable, and that nobody in the National Football League should be involved. And I don't believe any citizen in the United States should be involved with that.
“And that I think that as far as the NFL's concerned, we have dealt with Michael Vick as directly as possible, and that we're ready to focus on football for 2007.”

It remains to be seen if Michael Vick will be an albatross around the collective necks of the National Football League in 2007. The good news the right man is in charge of the National Football League, the better news – let’s get ready for some football!!!

For SportsBusinessNews this is Howard Bloom.

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