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Roger Goodell's Future In The NFL Remains Unclear

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

It's been a week since NFL commissioner Roger Goodell tried to take control out of an out-of-control situation. The recent spate of domestic violence cases involving players has hurt the league's image. Goodell was roundly criticized for his performance at a news conference last Friday, and lots of questions remain about his future. NPR's Tom Goldman reports.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Amidst all the criticism of Roger Goodell's press conference - he was unconvincing, he didn't provide details and substance - Robert Boland had this thought - the league's timing is wrong. Boland is a former NFL player agent who now teaches sports business at NYU.

ROBERT BOLAND: They have such strong control of message. They have such strong message discipline. And they have the ability to turn the news cycle a little bit in sports with their power. I think they were hoping to do that, and I think that may have been the premature issue. That may be where the press conference didn't succeed on objective.

GOLDMAN: Indeed, the bad news cycle hasn't turned.

BILL SIMMONS: Goodell - if he didn't know what was on that tape, he's a liar. I think that dude is lying. If you put him up on a lie detector test, that guy would fail.

GOLDMAN: This week, ESPN suspended popular writer-commentator Bill Simmons after he blasted the commissioner in his podcast. That earned Simmons martyr status among Goodell's critics. Then yesterday, the Associated Press identified in the NFL security director Jeffrey Miller as the person who was sent - back in April - the video of Ray Rice punching his then-fiancee. Miller denies receiving the tape. Goodell repeatedly has said, no one from the league saw the tape until it was publicly released 18 days ago. That's when the NFL upped its punishment of Rice to an indefinite suspension, and Rice's team cut him.

So the news still is flowing and obscuring Goodell's words and actions. He met this week with nearly a dozen former players to talk about improving the league's personal conduct policy. He also went to last Sunday's game between the New York Giants and Houston Texans, although according to the New York Daily News, Goodell stayed in his car by the stadium's loading dock for more than half an hour before going into the stadium. Again, here's Robert Boland.

BOLAND: He wants to be, more than anything - as a commissioner, he wants to be the first man. He wants to be out in public. He wants to have that platform. And I don't think he knows what to do, necessarily, while he doesn't.

GOLDMAN: It's uncharted territory for a commissioner who mostly has been strong and forceful and certainly has helped turn the league into an economic juggernaut, pulling in nearly $10 billion a year in revenue. One indication of his success - his reported $44 million salary, twice the amount of the highest paid player. By all accounts, Goodell still has the support of the owners who pay him, but he can't relax, says Fay Vincent. Vincent knows firsthand. He was Major League Baseball commissioner from 1989 to 1992. He quit when he lost support of the owners. Vincent says, Goodell should understand ownership is like a pennant in the wind.

FAY VINCENT: They support him, as long as they perceive that it's in the interest of the league. The sponsors and the public really control things. If the sponsors pull and indicate they want Goodell out, that will be the end of Roger Goodell.

GOLDMAN: The sponsors still are with him, despite some concern voiced by Anheuser-Busch and others. But Vincent says, those sponsors are listening, aware that a Sports Illustrated poll released this week says, 38 percent of fans think Goodell should go and that Goodell's approval rating among women is a paltry 20 percent. To turn those numbers in a positive direction, both Vincent and Robert Boland say, Goodell has to try to show a genuine commitment to strengthening the league's stance against domestic violence. And many believe the man who has wielded so much power needs to share, so the process works better, and the league's image avoids the kind of firestorm that still rages. And here's where critics hope one thing Goodell said a week ago sticks. Asked about reducing his power, Goodell said, everything is on the table. Tom Goldman, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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