The Washington Post published a profile today of divisive NFLPA leader DeMaurice Smith, portraying him as a combative man who maybe comes off a bit too paranoid and pretentious to earn the full trust of the of the players. The most insightful parts of the article, though, are about Smith’s foil: NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. Smith, to be fair, has an interest in making Goodell look as powerless as possible, but a couple of details he shares in the profile line up perfectly with Goodell’s public image as a squirrel-brained yes-man to his bosses, the owners.
First, there’s the description of the initial meeting between the two, which makes the commissioner sound like an imaginative kid wearing his dad’s too-big suit and trying to play businessman. No one else could put this much significance into a branded pin:
Not long after being elected in March 2009, Smith met Goodell at a brasserie in Washington. The dinner was cordial enough, Smith would recall, but at the end, Goodell slid across the table a lapel pin in the shape of the NFL’s red, white and blue shield. A decade later, Smith, 55, sees the gesture, ostensibly a welcome to the league, as condescending.
Can’t you just picture Goodell, having finished three-quarters of his well-done filet mignon, trying to hold back an overjoyed grin as he soberly welcomes his new labor adversary into the elite ranks of the National Football League’s power players? Not that Goodell appears to have much say in the goings-on at the top of the NFL. Smith says that he communicates with the owners directly much more than the commissioner. “Uh, yeah, let me talk to Jerry and Bob about that,” appears to be a common refrain for Goodell:
Smith suggests Goodell, despite his reputation, actually possesses little real influence on the league’s agenda. Calling the commissioner, Smith says, usually leads to Goodell reaching out to a key franchise owner — often Kraft or Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones — so if Smith now wants to resolve something, he might spend 20 minutes talking with Goodell and three hours directly lobbying an owner.
The future of the NFL, which has two more seasons of labor peace before the CBA expires in March 2021, is in some truly mediocre hands.