I soon discovered it wasn’t so easy. My first choice was a young sportswriter from Cincinnati who had just joined Newsday, the daily paper based on Long Island. But Peter King preferred writing about the NFL than helping to make the news, so he declined. Today, King is at Sports Illustrated and is considered the premier NFL writer in America. I talked to a couple other writers, none of whom wanted to make a move, so my thinking moved in-house.
I knew a bright, young guy in the NFL’s public relations department who had impressed me with his smarts and his willingness to take on any task assigned by the League’s longtime PR guy, Joe Browne. I talked to the young man and told him that a move to the Management Council was a step forward for him and would get him noticed, not only as the spokesman for NFL owners but by the owners themselves. If he wanted to go out to a club to make his bones, the Management Council was the place to do it.
We talked a couple more times, and he sounded interested, but he said he wanted to get the opinion of then-Commissioner Pete Rozelle. We spoke again the next day, and he politely declined. “Pete says he’s got other things in mind for me,” he told me. Looking back, I often wonder how that worked out for Roger Goodell.
But, seriously, Goodell has had a tough couple of years as the current NFL boss, and things just got tougher. Goodell told the Wall Street Journal this week “I blew it” after the outcry over his handling of a domestic-violence case involving former Baltimore Ravens star Ray Rice. The case has focused the commissioner’s attention on the off-field conduct of his players, who often faced graver consequences for using steroids than for punching a spouse or girlfriend.
Goodell told the Journal he regrets doing too little on past cases, particularly when measures could have prevented future abuse. “Our penalties didn’t fit the crimes,” he said. That is why Goodell unveiled a tougher personal-conduct policy Wednesday at a meeting with NFL team owners. An accused player, for example, will immediately go on paid leave following formal charges or an independent investigation under the proposal that would also apply to all NFL personnel, including owners. The new rules mark a shift for the NFL, which has been criticized for failing to properly address instances of domestic violence by players.
Since 2000, 135 domestic-violence allegations have been made against NFL players. Adjudication of the cases have varied from no-contest pleas to charges being dropped after wives or girlfriends withdrew their accusations. League punishments typically were, at most, one-game suspensions. Changes are also evident in the league’s New York City headquarters on Park Avenue, where female executives and consultants, some newly hired, sit in Goodell’s corner office around a conference table covered with victim photos and anti-violence educational materials. The topic of discussion is domestic abuse.
Goodell probably never has regretted taking my old job with the Management Council, although the microscope under which club executives are watched by the likes of Who Dat Nation pales to the far larger one he is under as Commissioner. And, in times like these, that microscope has been replaced by a magnifying glass that focuses the searing rays of criticism squarely on Goodell's backside.