Deford: Is Goodell Good Enough To Lead The NFL?

Jul 30, 2014
Originally published on July 30, 2014 1:59 pm

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's piddling suspension of Ray Rice of the Ravens for a mere two games for Rice's apparent violent attack upon his then-fiancee, now wife, has been met with shock and disappointment.

But for now, never mind Ray Rice. The larger question is whether Goodell is good enough to serve as the leader of the NFL.

Football is not only the most popular game in this country, but something more than that. In today's divided America, what other entertainment — what other institution — means so much to so many people, across all of our class, educational, racial and ethnic spectra?

Don't we need someone of greater stature at the helm of the NFL? Someone who appreciates that he should, if only symbolically, be the steward of all of football America? It is the power of football today that begs for a leader with greater perspective and sensitivity.

Click on the audio link above to hear Deford's take on the issue.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Fans of the Baltimore Ravens cheered running back Ray Rice at practice this week after he received a two-game suspension from the NFL. A video had surfaced of Rice dragging his unconscious fiancee - who's now his wife - dragging her out of a hotel elevator. He was indicted and is now participating in a court program that would allow Rice to avoid a trial. The arrest could eventually be cleared from his record. Commentator Frank Deford thinks the damage to the NFL's reputation from this episode will be harder to erase.

FRANK DEFORD, BYLINE: NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's piddling suspension of Ray Rice of the Ravens for a mere two games for his apparent violent attack upon his fiancee has been met with shock and disappointment. But for now, never mind Ray Rice. The larger question is whether Goodell is good enough to serve as the leader of the NFL, which is not only by far the most popular game in this country, but in reality something more than that. In today's divided America, what other entertainment - what other institution - means so much to so many people across all our class, educational, racial and ethnic spectrums? Really, don't we need someone of greater stature at the helm of the NFL? Someone who appreciates that he should, if only symbolically, be the steward of all football America? Someone who is neither so parochial of background, nor so commercially constricted as is Goodell? However, he only seems to look inside out, a football fan who literally dreamt of being commissioner as a boy and who has worked for the league all his adult life. Yes, to be fair, all our major leagues now choose their leaders from within a narrow vocational primogeniture. But if all these so-called czars had provincial sports backgrounds, the demands upon Goodell are greater because his league casts such a longer shadow. Obviously, he is a CEO of a huge enterprise and thus must attend to the business at hand, something Goodell certainly seems to do good enough. But it is the power of football today that begs for a leader with greater perspective and sensitivity, especially given the brutal nature of football that increasingly indicts it on moral charges. And the virtual drum-roll of off the field violence, so often against women, committed by so many football players. Goodell's sideswipe of a punishment to Ray Rice indicates, if nothing else, a cultural ignorance on his part. Remember, this is the businessman who is widely compared to a tobacco executive for so long procrastinating, denying the effects of obvious occupational concussions, a promoter who hanged a good health of his fungible players, even now wants more Thursday games and a longer regular-season schedule. But the NFL is the biggest boon this side of the Internet, so Goodell is cocooned by his ever-richer owners and a phalanx of admiring football reporters. The networks, his breathless partners, are simply bootlickers. The exalted NFL so needs a rector, a magistrate who comes to the game, not from within it. It needs a leader of grace and vision. More and more, Roger Goodell just looks like a slick, selling us 76 trombones.

MONTAGNE: And you can hear the comments of Frank Deford everyone Wednesday. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.