NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell Must Resign

Peter Flaherty President, National Legal and Policy Center
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National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell should resign or be fired. Goodell either saw, or should have seen, the elevator video of Baltimore Raven running back Ray Rice clocking his fiancé.

Goodell’s should be KO’ed by this episode. It would be an appropriate consequence. Domestic violence is a serious issue. Goodell has jumped on a number of causes where there is far less consensus either within the NFL or society at large. He has obligated the NFL to take politically correct stances on issues that seem to reflect his personal political beliefs.

If the NFL is truly “America’s Game,” it should not involve itself in divisive social issues. Everyone should feel welcome to attend a game or watch on TV. But Goodell has decided that the NFL is going to be a vehicle to advance gay rights, notwithstanding the hordes of kids who watch football. The advertising on NFL is already inappropriate enough for children, now Goodell has pledged to work with gay activists on the content of advertising.

(Goodell’s political correctness apparently goes only so far, especially when there is money on the line. He has resisted calls for the Redskins to change their name. The Redskins’ name and various logos are worth a fortune. We haven’t heard any of Goodell’s usual moralizing.)

And who can forget the Rush Limbaugh episode in 2009, where Goodell was positively aghast that a “conservative” might try to buy an NFL team. Even more telling about Goodell’s character was his attribution of racist quotes to Limbaugh that had been fabricated. When confronted at a Congressional hearing, Goodell disingenuously claimed that he was referring to separate, unrelated Limbuagh comments made in the course of the 2003 Donovan McNabb/black quarterback flap.

Of course, the anti-Limbaugh jihad was led by Al Sharpton. Whatever his viewpoint, Goodell should have taken pains to separate his position and that of the NFL from Sharpton’s. Instead, it looked like Goodell was taking his cues from a controversial activist, possibly the most divisive public figure in the country.

I do not know to what extent Goodell consults with the owners before going out and making his political statements. I suspect that at times he does not. His father was Charles Goodell, a liberal Republican congressman who was appointed to the United States Senate by New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller. In 1970, he was defeated by James Buckley, who ran on the Conservative Party line. The warfare between the GOP factions was actually quite intense. If Roger Goodell is motivated by score-settling with the right, it speaks even worse for him.

On Sunday afternoons (and now Sunday, Monday and Thursday nights, I guess) we should take a time out from politics. Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives should be able to sit down together and watch football. In this way, the NFL provides a common interest for people across social, economic and racial lines. The NFL can help unite us as a country and truly be “America’s Game.”

I grew up a Patriots fan. I went to practically every game in the old Foxboro stadium during the 70s. Although the sightlines were actually pretty good, it was a charmless cement bowl with aluminum benches except for the best sideline sections. Bob Kraft, who now owns the team, was a season ticket holder. Many Patriots fans like myself appreciate the fact that a long-suffering fan actually bought the team, and more than that, brought us victories on the field.

As a kid, I caddied for Bob Kraft’s father-in-law. You learn a lot about people during long hours on the golf course. They treated people right. They were also prominent supporters of politicians and causes with which I disagree, a fact that has never bothered me, or informed my opinions about them one bit.

That is what football does. It brings people together. And that is another reason why Roger Goodell must go.

Peter Flaherty is the president and co-founder of the National Legal and Policy Center, a 501(c)(3) foundation that promotes ethics in public life through research, investigation, education and legal action.