VetFamily: Roger Goodell, NFL Commissioner

Roger Goodell


Although the NFL’s first games are still months away, Commissioner Roger Goodell is by no means in “offseason” mode. With another big NFL Draft on April 25, tough decisions are always at the fore. Fortunately, Goodell learned important life lessons from his father, a Veteran of two branches of our military that serve to guide him today.

Charles Goodell was a congressman from New York, appointed to the Senate in the difficult weeks and months after Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination and was an outspoken advocate of ending the war in Vietnam. His military service includes a tour with the United States Navy toward the end of WWII as a seaman second class from 1944 to 1946, and in the United States Air Force as a first lieutenant from 1952 to 1953, during the Korean War.

As a Republican who opposed the Vietnam War, Charles Goodell fell out of favor with the party, and lost his seat in the 1970 election. By holding the line on an unpopular position, however, he set a powerful example for his son, who never forgot it. According to his Alma Mater Washington & Jefferson College, Roger wrote his father a letter upon graduation, thanking him for college adding “the only thing I want to do in life, other than to be the Commissioner of the NFL, is to make you proud.”

“He loved being a United States Senator,” Goodell says of his father, in a TIME Magazine interview. “My personal view is, he never got over that. And that’s sad to me on a lot of levels. But he did what was right. He knew the consequences. He knew it was going to end his career. You can’t buy a lesson like that.” The son, similarly, seems unafraid in handling difficult issues. He has the league moving into next year’s Super Bowl to do what it has never done before – hosting one exposed to winter conditions, at New Jersey’s Met Life Stadium, home for the New York Giants and Jets. He is also reportedly considering radical rule changes with kickoffs to decrease injuries, and given thought to cancelling the end-of-year Pro Bowl all-star game, because of what many feel is a lack of competitive spirit in the game.

The league under Goodell’s watch launched its "NFL Evolution" to inform and help players and fans deal with concussions, along with providing concussion-related news, including information about performance-enhancing drugs. The “concussion issue,” however is a complicated one for the NFL and not likely to go away anytime soon. On the field, there is an ongoing discussion of treatment and return to play rules. Off the field, former NFL players continue to sign up as plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the league; there is no financial downside since attorney fees are contingent on a settlement, and they are unsure what symptoms they may face in the years ahead. The challenges in this area for the NFL are considerable.

The game of professional football in America, however, enjoys extraordinary popularity. NFL owners continue to experience strong economic returns. Asset values for teams are skyrocketing. Additionally, there is a 10-year Collective Bargaining Agreement in place with the players, and an eight-year one with the Referees, ensuring a certain amount of labor peace.

The NFL is a big supporter of our military through many charitable and outreach efforts. Goodell, like many of the league’s players, has been to the Iraq/Afghanistan region to visit troops and bolster morale. He has met with Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno with regard to traumatic brain injury (TBI), and Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. Jonathan Greenert about recruiting athletes who try out for teams and do not get selected, but are excellent candidates for naval special warfare programs.

Born in Jamestown, N.Y., on Feb. 19, 1959, Roger Goodell graduated from Washington & Jefferson College in 1981 with a degree in economics, and quickly pursued his dream of leadership in the NFL, starting as an intern at the NFL offices in 1982. He rose through the ranks over the course of two decades, eventually serving closely under his predecessor Paul Tagliabue, as president and chief operating officer in 2001. Among his duties was to serve as president of NFL Ventures, Inc. (which oversees the NFL's business units, including media properties, marketing and sales, consumer products, international, stadium development, special events, and strategic planning). He also ran the league's football operations and officiating departments.

“My dad was not alive to see me become commissioner, but I know that, wherever he is, he is smiling,” he said. Goodell’s father-in-law also served in the military, former Secretary of Transportation (and Veterans Advantage TopVet) Sam Skinner. The father of twin girls, Goodell serves on the boards of the national and New York chapters of Big Brothers & Big Sisters, and is an officer of NFL Charities, the league’s charitable foundation.

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