Why Roger Goodell Will Never Be Fired

Forget Deflategate—Goodell’s job was never about football. It was all about the money.

Mark J. Rebilas/USA Today Sports/Reuters

After a year of trying to prosecute a football player over deflated footballs that might have been softened by weather, and after his league suffered through concussion crises and domestic violence scandals, Roger Goodell might have his ability to punish anybody stripped away.

That poses the question, in the words of the movie Office Space: “What would you say you do here?”

The answer, in the words of a bad guy in any other movie: His job is to sit on a pile of money.That’s it. Ask experts. Roger Goodell’s job as the commissioner of the NFL is to make sure the league’s precious TV rights remain exorbitantly expensive and deflect, deflect, deflect when it comes to any scandal that could do the league in.

That’s why we’re talking about deflated footballs that may not have been deflated after all, and why the league is more than happy to talk about this particular court proceeding: It’s because it allows them to talk about anything other than the brain-rattling hits that are scientifically proven to drive players to suicide.

“His job is to make $25 billion by 2027. His job is to make money for the owners. They can tolerate all the ancillary beefs as long as they’re rolling in TV cash. Every potential dollar seems to be maximized for the league,” Chad Finn, Boston Globe sports media columnist, told The Daily Beast. “You see the way the owners respect him. He’s doing the job that his 32 bosses expect of him.”

That job? Make sure those multibillion-dollar pacts with ESPN, CBS, FOX, NBC, and maybe Facebook next year remain multibillion-dollar pacts.

His ability to create a common set of standards by which he can suspend players has been a dismal failure, if not a somewhat intentional sideshow. Don’t forget: Tom Brady, a man who maybe asked a ballboy to deflate footballs but Goodell cannot prove it, was suspended for four games before a lawsuit tossed out the punishment. (The league is appealing the ruling, but this news won’t help their case.) Ray Rice, a player who coldcocked his future wife and knocked her unconscious in a casino elevator, was suspended for two games, then four, then a whole season.

Goodell’s job was never about football. It was about making money.

“It’s not going to matter until people stop pumping in money,” said Finn. “I don’t know if there’s a tipping point. I thought it might’ve come this year. It hasn’t, because people love this game and enjoy this game—even the bad things about it.”

Nobody’s felt the brunt of the abundant lol-nothing-matters-ness of the league’s decisions more than Finn’s readership in Boston. The region—especially the commentators and callers to its talk radio stations—has turned the Patriots’ community into full-on anti-Goodell truthers, who believe he’s a sort of anti-Brady villain for no reason.

“What’s the expression? ‘You’re not paranoid if they’re really following you?’ In some sense, it’s all justified,” he said.

Here’s the disconnect: Patriots fans believe Goodell is playing the bad guy because he dislikes the Patriots. They’re not right about the last part—Goodell and Patriots owner Bob Kraft were friends before Goodell used his team as a prop. Goodell is a fall guy because it makes business sense.

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The longer the grandstanding about the sanctity of the game can continue in and out of court, the longer it allows the league to postpone headlines about the CTE crisis that is ravaging the brains of, and causing suicides and violent behavior among, ex-players.

Don’t take it personally, Patriot fans. It could’ve been anybody.

“In this process, Goodell came across as disingenuous at best and a deceptive, sneaky liar at worst,” said Finn. “He was supplying deliberate misinformation to some of those sources.”And some of those sources—ones that worked at ESPN, which is propped up by Monday Night Football, the draft, and a week full of highlights for a half-year—were happy to parrot the party line.

It’s a sword Goodell deliberately fell on over the course of a few years, and why not? He made $44 million last year, tax exempt. We won’t know what he made this year, because the league opted to forgo its tax exemption to keep its financials private.

The worst part for people like Finn, who see the injustice so plainly, is that there’s just nothing he can do. Just like there are poli-sci classes on Watergate, there is now a 400-level class at the University of New Hampshire on Deflategate and the obvious textbook corruption therein.

But there’s no way to vote out Goodell. The NFL is no democracy. He won’t play president and Supreme Court anymore, but why should he be anything at all?

“You hate it when you see somebody with a tremendous amount of power that you know isn’t just or isn’t fair. And, yeah, you’ve got to be naïve to think people in power are all fair. But with Goodell, he doesn’t even cover his tracks very well,” said Finn. “I don’t think football fans in any city should trust him. In New England, we have proof.”