A Conversation with Roger Goodell

Last week, I expressed displeasure over the way the conference call between Roger Goodell and Colts fans went down.  I initially expressed my disappointment via Twitter, but the later follow-up on 18to88.com was subdued.  Paul Kuharsky wrote me for my thoughts on the call, and I expressed them to him. He asked me if he could use them in a story, and I readily gave consent.

On Friday, I was contacted by Brian McCarthy of the league office who expressed concern over my displeasure and asked for my phone number.  I sent him the number along with the nature of the question I intended to ask.

This morning, I got a phone call.  It was Roger Goodell.

Mr. Goodell called as a way of showing concern that a season ticket holder since 1997 was upset by the result of the phone call.  He insisted I call him Roger and graciously asked me what questions I had for him. 

My first question was if he regretted the TV deal that destabilized trust between the NFL and the players. 

Mr. Goodell responded by taking me back to the economic climate of 2008 and insisted that the contract was in the best interest of all the NFL’s business partners.  I noted that the court saw things differently, and he responded by referring to the Special Master’s ruling.  It was my understanding that the Special Master had ruled for the players on 3 of 7 counts.  Mr. Goodell disputed that, saying the Special Master only found for the players on a count involving an extra game given to NBC, that the amount of the damages was  $6.9 million and that the money was repaid to players already.  (Note: I believe I have this number correct. Any mistake on this number is likely mine and not his).  He said that I had skipped ahead to Judge Doty’s ruling without looking at the facts as laid out by the Special Master.

I asked him if he felt the NFL had behaved ethically in regards to the TV contracts, and he reiterated that he did believe the NFL had behaved in an appropriate manner and for the good of all their business partners including the players.  He did not regret the contracts and felt they were conducted appropriately.

I asked Mr. Goodell if he felt the the behavior of the owners, specifically in terms of pointed statements made by Jerry Richardson toward Peyton Manning and Drew Brees as well as certain behavior by Jerry Jones had contributed to an atmosphere of distrust and helped to destabilize the relationships.  He assured me that he was present for all the comments in question and that while in the context of difficult negotiations tough things can be said, he did not feel that the players in question were offended, and that media reports to the contrary were inaccurate.  He reiterated that he did not need to rely on media reports about what was said and how it was received because he was physically present.

I asked Mr. Goodell why no formal offer was made to the players before the start of negotiations in March.  He disputed that, saying they made a formal offer long ago and that he would send me information to that effect.

I asked Mr. Goodell if there was any aspect of the NFL’s conduct during the negotiations that he regretted, if there was anything he would have done differently, if there was any culpability to be shared by the league for the current state of affairs.  He responded that no, while obviously he has given considerable thought as to what could be done to get a a deal accomplished, he felt the NFL had behaved appropriately.  He said that one always runs back over such negotiations searching for what could have been done differently, but that he did not believe there was anything that could have been changed. He then expressed frustration at the fact that the discussions were taking place in a courtroom rather than in mediated settlement talks.

Finally, we discussed the issue of the phone call with the Colts’ fans. I said that while I certainly appreciated his call, I hoped he could understand why I felt that the questions asked last Wednesday were disappointing. I mentioned the question about his favorite player growing up.  Mr. Goodell responded by saying that I’d be surprised at how often people ask him that question.  I replied that I felt that it was outside the bounds of what the call was designed to do. Mr Goodell replied that he didn’t feel it was his place to tell fans what questions to ask. 

I replied that his call had certainly eased my concerns about the nature of the conference call with Colts fans.  It had been suggested via Twitter that the call could have been staged or pre-recorded.  Apparently, this is a common practice for some corporations when holding a conference call.  Please note that this is not an accusation that I leveled here on 18to88.com, as there was obviously no proof and this isn’t the forum for spreading rumors.  He said that he was aware of the charge, and I believe his voice betrayed a justified annoyance.  I assured him that any concerns I had to that effect had been quelled and thanked him for his time.

I found Mr. Goodell to be patient, straightforward and direct.  He directly challenged some of my assertions with fact claims that I simply could not verify in the moment.  He presented himself in a calm, caring, and concerned way.  While I need time to research some of the fact claims that he made, I appreciate the fact that he made fact claims and was in no way evasive.  We spoke for roughly ten minutes.

I wish to extend my thanks to Roger Goodell and to Brian McCarthy for providing me the opportunity to ask the commissioner these questions in a frank and direct manner.  I appreciate their time.

This is merely my report of the conversation as free from editorial comment as possible.  After I have had time to research some of the claims the commissioner made, I’ll respond in a more editorial manner. As I noted above, I was not expecting a call from the commissioner, and therefore had to rely simply on my memory and current understanding.  I was not able to record or take notes on the conversation, therefore I’m writing this within minutes of the conversation to try and produce as accurate a record as possible of the things we discussed. My editorial comments can be found here.