There’s an oft-used strategy in the entertainment industry to generate excitement even before a product is revealed to the public: keeping them guessing. Whether it’s George R. R. Martin being cryptic about his next Game of Thrones book or Lucasfilm making fans think that Finn was going to be the next Jedi, we love puzzling through the ambiguous and contradictory reports leading up to a release.
A sports league commissioner’s contract negotiations, however, are not a TV drama to most. The average football fan is more interested in whether or not a star quarterback will be traded or the actual game on the field.
But NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is no average commissioner. He doesn’t receive a lot of support from fans, and the reasons for this vary depending on who you ask. He’s too strict because his “No Fun League” fines players for over-celebrating. He’s too lax for not disciplining sexual abusers enough. He’s criticized for not addressing players’ brain health adequately. He’s criticized for taking steps to make the game less violent.
Perhaps Goodell holds the kind of job where, no matter what he does, he gets backlash for it. Booing fans are probably interested in the fact that reporting on Goodell’s contract extension, something that should be routine, has been murky and inconsistent.
Goodell became commissioner in 2006. His current contract runs out in 2019. On Aug. 21, Sports Business Journal reported that an extension through 2024 was coming soon. Sports Illustrated concurred, calling it “unsurprising” the same day.
Starting Sunday, Sept. 17, ESPN reported via an anonymous source that Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones “impeded the progress of contract negotiations.” An anonymous source in the very same article suggested that Jones thought Goodell was making too much money.
Jones may have been doing it as an act of revenge. One of his players, Ezekiel Elliott, had been suspended for six games for violating the NFL’s conduct policy. The league was conducting an investigation into alleged incidents of sexual assault while Elliott was a student at the Ohio State University.
Though the NFL Players Association sued the NFL and succeeded in getting the U.S. 5th District Court of Appeals to temporarily block the suspension, Jones may still be upset over the ongoing battle. Jones was asked about it in a post-game press conference later that Sunday and brushed it off.
“I deal with conflicts of interest every day, as do does [Goodell],” he said.
Pointing to problems with compensation is odd for Jones, however, as he’s not on the NFL’s compensation committee. He’s repeatedly claimed to represent owners who aren’t on the committee, a tough job considering he doesn’t have a seat himself.
Things seemed to subside by Wednesday, when the Washington Post reported that Goodell’s contract extension was “expected to be completed” by the committee. An anonymous source even told the Washington Post that “it was never off track.” ESPN ran a similar story Thursday, stating that, while Jones raised issues, the committee had been worked out. The contract extension was reportedly “getting done” despite Jones.
There were no new reports from ESPN, Sports Illustrated or Bleacher Report over the weekend about contract negotiations. NFL meetings weren’t being held, and reporting turned to President Donald Trump’s comments on the NFL and the league’s swift condemnation. Near-universal displays of protest and unity by players and owners followed Sunday. Goodell’s full-fledged support, along with a punch back at Trump, likely earned him brownie points.
During Sunday’s games, news on Goodell’s contract came back. CBS Sports reported a plot twist. There was never any drama with Jones. According to Jason La Confora, the contract had been agreed upon the previous Wednesday and Jones never had any say in it.
This goes against previous ESPN reporting and Jones’s own words, but the previous week showed that overall reporting never painted a clear picture. In addition, the credibility of anonymous sources and Jones, an eccentric billionaire with a made-up position to go with his real football team, can’t be perfect.
As of Sept. 29, no official announcement has been made by the NFL of Goodell’s anticipated contract extension.
Intentionally or not, genuinely or not, the NFL has spun a mystery over the fate of its owner. Is Jerry Jones telling the truth? Is it really only about money, or is it about revenge? Have we all been led to believe a false narrative? It’s drama fit for reality television, and for those paying attention, they’ll have to keep guessing until the answer is finally revealed.
Photo courtesy of WCVB-TV.