Don’t blame Goodell for society’s problems

Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports
(Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports)

I’ve read many articles and reviewed a lot of social media that call for NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to resign in light of the arbitrator’s ruling to reinstate Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice.

But it’s important to understand the NFL is a for-profit business run by savvy league officials and team owners who will seek counsel from their peers rather than those without a vested financial interest. The owners hired Goodell to make decisions that create value for them. The NFL’s constituencies are savvy for-profit businesses too, especially the TV networks, advertisers, merchandisers and many others for whom Goodell has created tremendous value.

You would be hard-pressed to find anyone who would say Goodell hasn’t created a tremendous amount of value during his time with the league, and he is an executive of unique skill on that front.

Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
(Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports)

While Goodell’s second-guessers are mostly social media pundits who take phrases from the judge’s ruling out of context to paint Goodell in the worst possible light, one phrase in the ruling summarizes the entire matter: “. . . the inadequacy of words to convey the seriousness of domestic violence.”

Unless you have been the victim of assault, it is hard to comprehend, let alone understand, the mental anguish felt by the victim.  The judge was quite right in that no words are adequate to explain the terror felt by those assaulted, and that is the case many times even with visual proof. That said, when Goodell handed out the first two-game suspension to Rice, I believe he was trying to be a good guy, not to Rice or the Ravens or the NFL, but to Rice’s wife.  Goodell then rescinded the deal and overreacted to the backlash in social media by going with an indefinite suspension, which resulted in a different sort of backlash.

A valuable business lesson should be learned here for all sports leagues, team owners and executives: You can’t run your sports business on the opinion of social media. You don’t even know who social media is, or what agenda they are pursuing without checking IP addresses.  I once had an owner tell me that 2,000 negative blog comments all going by different names were made by only seven different IP addresses.

AP Photo/Patrick Semansky
(Patrick Semansky-AP)

Paradoxically, the replaying of the Rice elevator video over and over victimizes the victim, Janay Rice. She has said as much as have some of the more enlightened talk shows.  But while the media unconsciously victimizes the victim, social media has the wrong target in Goodell.  Both should turn their focus to applying critical thought and creative remedies to the important societal issues of violence and press for solutions through legislation and the judicial system.

Domestic violence penalties, in my opinion, are too lenient in every state.  The NFL, which has control of a player for an average of less than four years, is not well-equipped to correct legislative leniency and systemic societal issues.  Goodell is not the bad guy.  He didn’t assault anyone. He’s just guilty of trying to be the good guy in being too lenient for the benefit of Rice’s wife and then taking harsh corrective action that was designed to show the seriousness of domestic abuse.

An additional business takeaway is when you are kind to the cruel, you are cruel to the kind. You are paid to make the right decision, not the good-guy decision. By being too lenient in the first decision it made an unintended mockery of all those that suffer from domestic violence. The other business takeaway for Goodell is that the more successful you are, the thicker your skin must be. And the bigger the target is on your back even when you are trying to do the right thing, especially in a complex and difficult situation.  You attained that position of leadership and have been successful because of your decision-making ability and not by doing what the masses tell you to do.


Brian Mulligan is currently the CEO of Brooknol Advisors, a Media, Entertainment and Sports Advisory Company. Mr. Mulligan has held CEO, Chairman, COO or CFO position of virtually every media/entertainment vertical for majors over a 30 year career, from Co-Chairman of Universal Pictures, CEO of Universal Television, Chairman of FOX Broadcasting and Cable, EVP/CFO of a Fortune 50 Company, SVP of MCA INC, EVP of Strategic Planning and Corporate Development Universal, Senior Executive Advisor Boston Consulting, Vice Chairman of Media/Telecom of a Money Center Bank, and worked extensively in/with private equity. Instrumental in over $175 billion of media and entertainment transactions.

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