Commissioner Impossible: Why NFL’s Roger Goodell Is The Worst Boss In Sports

There’s a strange connection between all four commissioners of the major sports in North America. They are all from New York. In fact, 2 of them went to the same college, Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations and graduated only a few years apart; Gary Bettman of the NHL graduated in 1974 and Rob Manfred of the MLB graduated in 1980. The similarities for 3 of the commissioners don’t end there and have helped shape the progressiveness of their perspective leagues.

Where you grow up has a significant impact on your adult life. The progressive views of NBA Commissioner Adam Silver could easily be contributed to growing up just 40 minutes north of New York City. NHL’s Gary Bettman grew up in Queens, just 40 minutes east. They’re proximity to one of the most diverse cities in the world must have helped shaped the people they are today. Adam Silver is widely considered the most progressive thinking commissioner in sports and has earned the respect of the players, owners, and fans.

MLB’s Commissioner Rob Manfred did not grow up near New York City, but rather in Rome, NY, a small town east of Syracuse. Manfred has been known to be, at the very least, more open to rule changes and listening to some ideas that may slightly alter baseball.

 “My interest in labor relations was really a direct result of the community I grew up in.”

Rob Manfred

Roger Goodell grew up near Buffalo New York with a senator for a father. Although Senator Charles Goodell ran as a Republican, he was widely known as having won over the Liberal party and had many supporters on both sides of the political spectrum.

But since Roger Goodell took over as commissioner of the NFL, the league has been anything but progressive, and has slowly lost the respect of players and fans, even recently losing support from one owner as well in Jerry Jones. But the NFL has grown significantly since Goodell has taken over. He is the highest paid commissioner in sports, and rightly so if the salary is based on league income alone.

The NFL far surpasses each of the other 3 sports in revenue. But for all the money made in the world, it seems like Goodell has not been able to gain the support of players or fans. From overstretching his reach on discipline to slow reaction on protests taking place during the anthem, Goodell was always too little too late except for when it comes to widening the wallet.

NHL’s Gary Bettman has not been a fan favorite either. He has regularly been booed during the Stanley Cup presentation for years. So much so that some people have asked that he be removed from the presentation altogether as to not ruin the experience for the players and fans.

Bettman, currently sports longest tenured commissioner at 24 years, has taken equal praise and flak for growing the league in non-traditional hockey markets like Florida and Tennessee. He has managed to grow hockey’s share of the market through 3 labor strikes as well. Although fans, for the most part, don’t like Bettman, he has pushed hockey into some mainstream media, and has been straightforward about social activism.

“We encourage them to be as socially active and involved as they’d like to be…and exercise their political choice.”

Adam Silver has had a similar sentiment over the years and has encouraged players to be as active as they want to be. He just prefers that it remain for before or after the game. Even coaches Gregg Popovich and Steve Kerr have taken some time out during pressers to explain where they stand on some political and social concerns.

Rob Manfred stood by the MLB Players Association in supporting players who would want to voice their political or social issues platform, including kneeling during the anthem. Manfred has shown to be a good listener when it comes to both fan and player complaints or suggestions.

The league with the most fans and the most to lose is the NFL who consistently falls behind on the important social matters that are trending in America today. We, as fans, sometimes forget that sports leagues are still a place of work, different from a perspective of what they do, but not that different from a Human Resources standpoint.

The similarities between commissioners Silver, Bettman, and Manfred is a law degree. Silver received his law degree from the University of Chicago, Bettman from New York University School of Law, and Manfred from Harvard. Manfred and Bettman specialized in labor law in their undergrad work and all three men spent time actively working for a law firm before taking their position as a commissioner.

The odd man out, Roger Goodell. Goodell graduated from Washington and Jefferson College in Pennsylvania with an economics degree in 1981 and started the very next year as an intern with the NFL. In 1984, Goodell was hired as a public relations assistant. By 1987, he was assistant to the president of the AFC. After 5 rounds of voting in 2006, Goodell became the commissioner of the league.

With no legal or labor background, Goodell approaches things with his head in economics and his hands in public relations. This particular approach has led him into the dangerous territory of being reactive instead of proactive with the leadership of his league.

Goodell has an excellent working knowledge of the NFL having been involved with it for as many years as he has. But unlike the other three league commissioners, his knowledge does not extend to previous recorded cases that have gone past the place of employment into the court system. Settling a workplace issue is usually left up to the human resources department and is never passed to finance or public relations. This is the spot that trips up the NFL the most.

All four commissioners being from New York is just a coincidence. All four men blazed their own unique path into their respective leagues. The bumbling NFL consistently failing to provide adequate response to employee and consumer issues is not.