By Danny Kohan
In March of 2013, Sports Illustrated named NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell the most powerful man in sports.
For the cover shot, they chose an image of Mr. Goodell sitting atop the infamous “Iron Throne” from HBO’s hit show Game of Thrones (which was about to premier its third season). Oh, how apt that photo turned out to be.
Roger Goodell, a man who rules the NFL with an iron first, sitting on the “Iron Throne.” It’s almost too perfect.
On the television show, the Throne was forged from 1,000 swords that had been surrendered in a previous great war and melted down by the fiery breath of a dragon. Goodell, on the other hand, amassed great power and wealth (over $150 million as commissioner) on the melted down head’s of thousands and thousands of concussed former players.
At the time of the photo, Goodell had already faced harsh criticism for the way he mishandled multiple issues around the League including: the referee strike of 2012, the concussion issue and the Saints “Bountygate” scandal. The man had become a walking case study on how NOT to handle a crisis.
USA Today even released a poll in 2013 saying that he had just a 39% approval rating amongst NFL players. Still, there he was, sitting with a smug look on his face, holding a freaking sword…the most powerful man in sports.
In the past four years, the characters sitting atop that Throne on the television show got more and more brutal at their job and so it seemed did Roger. After Baltimore Ravens running back, Ray Rice, knocked his girlfriend out unconscious before the start of the 2014 season, Roger responded by handing down a mere two-game suspension.
That’s two games less than Rice would’ve gotten if he had taken Adderall without a prescription. It wasn’t until surveillance video of the incident went viral that Goodell was forced to increase his punishment.
Roger followed that by mishandling yet another scandal, “Deflategate,” which dragged on for over a year and hung over two consecutive Super Bowls. The Mad King had finally reached full “Burn them all!” level insanity, giving the league’s biggest star a four-game suspension for allegedly slightly deflating a ball during one of his team’s blowout playoff victories.
The stupidity of the “Deflategate” saga, even caused mild mannered New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees to say of Goodell (in a 2016 Sports Illustrated interview), “I think we would all agree that he definitely has too much power. He is judge, jury and executioner when it comes to all the discipline. I’m not going to trust any league-led investigation when it comes to anything.”
In the Game of Thrones world of today’s NFL, Drew Brees is basically Tyrion. A man with an unfortunate facial deformity who was continually underestimated due to his lack of size. He might as well have said, “We’ve had vicious kings, and we’ve had idiot kings… but I don’t know if we’ve ever been cursed with a vicious idiot for a king!”
This past February, Patriots fans booed Goodell incessantly after the Super Bowl, even as he handed their team the Lombardi Trophy. A couple months later, at the NFL Draft, the jeers grew even louder as the Commissioner looked visibly uncomfortable trying to speak over a Philadelphia crowd out for blood. Goodell even stooped so low as to bring local fan favorite Ron Jaworski out with him on one occasion in an unabashed attempt to quell the boos (yup, that didn’t work either).
Still, even though players and fans alike have been calling for Goodell to be fired for years now, his boss (the NFL owners) have refused to even consider it. No matter how inept he may seem, no matter the size of the scandal or the stupidity of the cluster-fuck he may create, the owners have always been more than willing to look the other way.
In their eyes, as long as television ratings keep going up, as long as they keep raking in the cash, nothing else matters. In their eyes, Roger has delivered on priorities #1, #2 and #3…he’s their Tom Cruise, he’s shown them the money.
That is why, when it was reported that average television viewership for the 2016 season had dropped 8% (the steepest drop off of viewers in the past ten years), we fans saw a rare sight. The sight of Roger Goodell, The Mad King himself, hurrying to please his critics.
For years now, the running joke has been that the NFL really stands for the “No Fun League” because of how harshly players are fined and penalized for daring to celebrate their accomplishments on the field. Despite the backlash, Roger refused to budge.
However, as soon as ratings dipped, suddenly, the time felt right to ease off on the League’s overbearing celebration rules. Go figure.
At last, the fine citizens of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros can sleep well knowing that they will no longer be beheaded for group celebrations, making a snow angel or using the ball as a prop. Finally, the players are free to express themselves.
Unless, of course, they make a mock bow and arrow with their hands or dare to twerk.
The penalty for those barbaric demonstrations will remain the same…a life sentence defending The Wall.
Author: Danny Kohan