Ashley Fox | Goodell already calling the right signals

Posted: May 24, 2007

It is early, way early in the grand scheme of a 15- or 20-year career, but in the first nine months of Roger Goodell's tenure, we have learned a few things about the NFL's commissioner.

He doesn't tolerate recurrent boneheaded behavior.

He has creative ideas on how to make a $6 billion industry grow further.

He doesn't just hear, he listens.

And he's receptive, even encouraging, regarding player input, which makes Goodell unique, and for a man who represents the best interests of the league's 32 owners, possibly even revolutionary.

It's early, way early, so we'll see. But preliminary thumbs are up, which should make the rocky road on which Goodell inevitably will travel a little easier to traverse.

On Tuesday, Goodell presided over a one-day owners' meeting in Nashville, and announced a few initiatives that, while in the works for a while, were fascinating.

Forty million people watched last month's draft, yet Goodell has a plan to make it even more popular, by shortening the time between picks and possibly moving the all-important first round to prime time. Goodell asked the competition committee for an opinion - members liked the idea - and then reminded everyone that it is "a commissioner's decision."

Before the Super Bowl, a group of retired players - including Mike Ditka - passionately described the crushing plight of some of the league's former players, men who played for peanuts and now can't walk, can't eat, and can't afford shelter, much less medical care. On Tuesday, Goodell announced that the league would unite with the NFL Players Association and other NFL groups to coordinate medical support services for former players who need them.

Several weeks after introducing his new, strict player-conduct policy, Goodell announced a couple of popular player-related changes. This season, the league will reemphasize the importance of offensive, defensive, and special-teams captains. Goodell also established a whistle-blower system, allowing any player who is pressured to return from a concussion an avenue to report the incident anonymously.

Such a system shows players that Goodell is more than a judge and jury when they get in trouble. He bends, too. And given the rate at which players continue to get in trouble, Goodell will need all the goodwill he can get.

"I think the verdict is still out," the players' union president, Troy Vincent, said yesterday from his office in Washington. "Obviously, we can only compare him to what we once had, and I don't think that's fair. . . . But he's been very responsive. He negotiates on behalf of the owners, but he's open. . . . He's not coming in trying to say, 'It's my way and it's the only way.' "

Just to have the commissioner producing ideas such as having players hear disciplinary cases or encouraging players to get involved with their head coaches "is new," Vincent said.

It's early, way early, but the foundation is being built.

Goodell elicits the perfect blend of respect and fear. He is fair but stern, approachable yet in charge. He will listen but he will act.

Given his hard stance on player conduct - that he won't tolerate repeat offenders - whenever anything untoward happens with a player or coach, the immediate reaction is, "What's the commish going to think about that?"

He's not going to like it.

"Extremely disappointed and embarrassed" was how Goodell characterized his reaction to Clinton Portis' recent statements about Michael Vick and alleged dog-fighting, according to the Washington Post. And what of the Steelers employee who, according to profootballtalk.com, inadvertently forwarded a pornographic video to people in the league office, including Goodell? Well, that guy will deserve whatever he gets.

"Obviously any time there's an incident, you're disappointed in that, but that's going to happen," Goodell said during a news conference Tuesday. "We wanted to have a mechanism where they knew clearly what would happen, and that we were going to be aggressive in this area and we'll deal with it. Things are going to happen, and this is not the end of the road. This is the beginning of the road."

Or, more specifically, the beginning of Goodell's road.

He will have more issues. It's possible the owners will vote to void the collective-bargaining agreement with the players in November, which could lead to labor strife. Avoiding that headache will be key.

Goodell also will need to make it easier for retired players to get disability payments. The current process is unnecessarily cumbersome, and a disgrace.

And Goodell is going to have to continue to work on the league's image.

It's early, way early, but the commish is off to a good start.


Contact staff writer Ashley Fox

at 215-854-5064 or afox@phillynews.com.

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