- Roger Goodell's press conference gave us all a reminder: No matter his past missteps, the NFL is Goodell's kingdom for the foreseeable future.
MINNEAPOLIS — Roger Goodell walked to the podium, thoroughly prepared to explain that his industry is not dying. He was prepared. He is always prepared. It is one of the maddening things about him. His press conferences are like a Floyd Mayweather fight—you might go in hoping the guy will get pummeled, but you realize after about 30 seconds that it won’t happen.
The NFL dropped two bits of news this week. Well, one was news. The other was a well-timed vow.
The news was that the Fox bought the rights to Thursday Night Football—at a 33% increase, per game, over the last TNF deal, with Fox and CBS. Digital rights still have not been sold, but they will also fetch big money, and this was Goodell’s version of a mic drop. The NFL’s TV ratings are down, but they are still stronger than TV ratings for literally anything else.
The well-timed vow: Goodell told Fox Sports’s Colin Cowherd that he wants to change the league’s catch rule. As most fans know, the current rule states that “If a receiving player catches the ball, it might be a catch, but who knows? It might not be.” This has led to some confusion.
Goodell wants clarity on the rule, and in classic NFL fashion, the league is expected to ask the opinions of dozens of players, coaches and administrators from various eras, then review hundreds of hours of film and convene six to eight independent committees so it can simplify this. I don’t see what could go wrong.
Goodell is on the right track with the catch rule, of course. It’s dumb and it has to be changed. But while a new rule will inevitably lead to an absolutely crazy controversy in the final minute of the opening-night game next year, it’s important to note that a) it will only boost TV ratings, and b) millions of people are obsessing over a catch rule. I dare say that far more people care about the catch rule than whether Major League Baseball starts extra innings with a runner on second base, which would be completely insane.
It’s the NFL’s world and Goodell will remain its king for the foreseeable future, as long as he brings his food taster whenever he eats with somebody from New England. He has a new contract. He survived the completely botched Deflategate investigation and mostly botched penalties. Jerry Jones came at him and missed.
There are still challenges, of course. The CTE issue looms over the whole sport. Colin Kaepernick is suing the league for blackballing him, and that blackballing is so much clearer than the catch rule ever was. But whatever happens in that case, the people who employ Goodell are unlikely to blame him for it.
“I’ve been very clear on this before,” Goodell said, when he was asked about Kaepernick. “All the clubs individually have to make their own decisions about who is on the roster or not on the roster. The clubs have to make that decision. We as a league do not get involved in that.”
If anything, Goodell’s press conference was a reminder of how ridiculously abnormal the last few years have been. There should never be that much anger toward a commissioner. He is supposed to be a neutral person running a business that Americans happily frequent. Of course it’s a hard job, but there were less controversial ways to handle Ray Rice, Deflategate, and franchise relocation.
Now that Goodell has survived what we assume is the worst, you wonder: will the rest of his tenure be smoother? There really is no way to answer to that. We don’t know which fires he will have to extinguish. We don’t know exactly how much power he will have. We don’t know what the next labor negotiations will look like. We don’t even know who the most powerful owners in the league will be in a few years.
We do know that when one of the league’s planted questions from a fan to Goodell began, “Many people look up to you as a role model and an inspiration,” it was hard to suppress a cackle. Even Goodell knows there are not many people who look up to him as a role model or an inspiration. But they do know he is the commissioner, and there’s nothing they can do about it.