By Nicholas Gregory on 09/19/14


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In the wake of the recent Ray Rice video firestorm, some have called for the thirty-two National Football League (NFL) owners to sack their most powerful employee, Commissioner Roger Goodell, for mishandling the Rice incident.[i]  Goodell may have fumbled the NFL’s reputation by initially giving Rice a lenient two game suspension, but do not expect the owners to come calling for his playbook.

While commissioners play a powerful role in the management of their respective leagues, they are ultimately employees of the team owners, who have the authority to fire the commissioner if the commissioner takes actions contrary to the leagues’ best interests.[ii] Like most employees, commissioners enjoy a heightened sense of job security when they are helping their employers enjoy financial success.

Roger Goodell does not have to worry about finding a pink slip on his desk anytime soon.

Under Goodell, the NFL is enjoying unprecedented and unrivaled financial success.[iii]

In 2013, the NFL realized an annual revenue of $9.2 billion, a $2.7 billion increase from 2006, when Goodell became NFL Commissioner. Additionally, corporations spent over $1 billion to sponsor NFL franchises last year. In 2010, Goodell set a goal for the NFL’s annual revenues to reach $25 billion by the year 2027; a goal that some feel is readily attainable.[iv]

As further proof of the financial success of the NFL, review the recent sale of the Buffalo Bills. The Bills sold for $1.4 billion, even though the franchise is in one of the smaller NFL markets.[v]  After such a profitable sale in Buffalo, imagine the price tag on one of the NFL’s most valuable franchises, like the Dallas Cowboys or the New York Giants.

Goodell’s track record of astounding financial success is even more impressive considering he has presided over the league at a time when America’s consumers cut their entertainment budgets. [vi]  Moreover, many question the viability of not only the NFL, but also the game of football itself, as a result of recent concerns for player safety stemming from the dangers of concussions.[vii]

The NFL’s financial success story under Goodell, however, does not completely indemnify him from any liability in the Ray Rice incident. There are arguments that support the removal of Roger Goodell as Commissioner of the NFL because of the way he handled the Rice case.

Some argue that Goodell is hypocritical because he has rendered harsh penalties for, what some may call, minor of infractions, but he let Rice off the hook for a repulsive act of domestic violence. In addition, others question Goodell’s out-of-character inaction and silence regarding the Rice incident.[viii]

Both of these arguments could support a conclusion by the team owners that Goodell’s handling of the Rice incident was detrimental to the best interests of the NFL; thus, giving the team owners legal authority under the NFL’s Constitution and Bylaws to fire Goodell.[ix]

Realistically, however, it is unlikely that either of these arguments would overcome Goodell’s sparkling track record of financial success. In response to the backlash from the video, Robert Kraft, one of the NFL’s most influential owners, supported Goodell, stating that he thought Goodell’s handling of the situation was “excellent.”[x]

Apparently, the owners are still supporting Goodell, despite the public backlash.

One possible scenario that could force the NFL owners to succumb to public pressure and fire Goodell is if concrete evidence shows that Goodell lied about not seeing the video until it was made public. Beyond such an extreme scenario, the most probable outcome is that the owners will vote with their wallets, and will not sack Roger Goodell.


[i] See, e.g., Jim Souhan, It’s Time for Goodell to Go, Star Tribune, (last updated Sep. 10, 2014, 11:55 AM) (arguing that NFL owners should fire Goodell because his lack of courage in disciplining Rice could hurt them more than actions of any single player’s misconduct).

[ii] See Glenn M. Wong, Essentials of Sports Law 13 (Praeger, 4th ed. 2010) (explaining that part of role of commissioner is to serve as employee of league and is responsible to its owners).

[iii] See Monte Burke, Think the NFL is in Decline Because of Head Trauma Issues? Think Again, forbes (Aug. 14, 2013, 9:34 AM), (stating financial statistics from 2013 show that NFL is in excellent financial condition despite heightened concerns for player safety).

[iv] See Monte Burke, How the National Football League Can Reach $25 Billion in Annual Revenues, Forbes (Aug. 17, 2013, 6:30 AM), (commenting that new television rights contracts with major networks and extensive potential growth opportunities for league’s own network represent potential lucrative sources of revenue for NFL).

[v] See Buffalo Sabres Owners Reach ‘Definitive Agreement’ to Buy Buffalo Bills, Wall St. J. (Sep. 9, 2014, 8:57 PM), (reporting that Terry Pegula bid $1.4 billion, setting NFL record high sale price, for Bills franchise despite concerns about its future in Buffalo).

[vi] See Burke, supra note 3 (detailing concerns regarding player safety in NFL). See also Families Cut Spending on Entertainment, Charities in 2013, Wall St. J. (Sep. 9, 2014, 4:21 PM), (stating that consumers cut spending for first time in three years among economic concerns such as weak wage growth).

[vii] See Heather MacGillivray, Where is the Awareness in Concussion Awareness: Can Concussed Players Really Assume the Risk in a Concussed State?, 21 Jeffrey S. Moorad Sports L.J. 529 (2014) (discussing concussions in modern day NFL).

[viii] See Souhan, supra note 1 (detailing some arguments supporting removal of Roger Goodell as NFL Commissioner).

[ix] See Nicki Jhabvala, What Would it Take to Remove Roger Goodell as NFL Commissioner, Denver Post (Sep. 9, 2014, 5:34 PM), (citing NFL Bylaws and Constitution applicable to removal of commissioner).

[x] Karen Guregian, Robert Kraft Backs Roger Goodell, Boston Herald (Sep. 10, 2014), (stating that Kraft believes Goodell has high character and is being criticized unfairly).


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