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Keith Strudler: Making Roger Goodell Money

The average NFL playing career is about three years. So after all the sacrifice of making a team, from pee-wee to college ball, after giving all your waking ambitions to this singular goal and basically winning the athletic lottery, you still get on average about three years. Which means half get less. It’s more like temp work than permanent employment. And most of these short-term hires earn at or near the league minimum, which is around a half a million a year for entry-level athletes that aren’t early round draft picks. That may sound like a lot of money to the rest of us – and it is – but it’s not what we normally assume about professional football players, most of whom are not Tom Brady or Dez Bryant. Which, among other reasons, is why so many former NFL athletes end up struggling with finances years after retirement, something that happens at around age 25.

Which, among other reasons parents, is why you should tell your kids not to be professional football players. But that doesn’t mean they should stay out of football. They should just stay off the field. If you want to give your kids sound career advice, tell them to go into NFL administration. More specifically, if you want your kids to have long-term wealth in football, tell them to be an NFL Commissioner.

If you don’t believe me, just as the League’s current boss Roger Goodell, who’s possibly the most visible corporate executive outside of Silicon Valley. Goodell is about to sign a five-year extension that will take him to 2024, on top of the 11 years he’s been in the job. And with that contract, he’ll get a bit of a raise. Like a $4 million per year raise. Which is a lot of money. Of course, when it comes to money and the NFL Commissioner, it’s all contextual.

See, since 2006, Goodell has earned around $212 million. A lot of that has come in bonuses. Like in 2012, he earned over $44 million, and a more modest 34 million in 2014. So when you talk about a $4 million pay hike, it starts to sound like a rounding error. But that’s essentially double his base salary, and coincidentally, more than most Americans earn in a lifetime.

A rationale for this executive compensation package is two-fold. First, he’s made the NFL richer than even Donald Trump thinks he is.  Under Goodell’s watch, the League has tripled revenues to some $14 billion (with a B) per year. Franchises are worth over $2 billion, TV money is still great, and he’s got sponsors galore. So he is a rainmaker, which helps explain his own personal sea of cash. Second, Goodell has led the league through an onslaught of crises, from domestic abuse to concussions and CTE to Deflategate, such that it is. And while it’s unfair and in some cases premature to say the League weathered every storm, it is fair to say that they’re still a top the American sports empire, even as more than a few very smart people have long predicted the League’s downfall. And, for the most part, he’s taken all the body blows himself, protecting his bosses – the 32 very rich team owners – from getting hurt.

But as everyone knows, you don’t pay people for what they’ve done – although I wish that were the case – you pay them for what you hope they’ll do in the future. And Roger Goodell’s future looks, shall we say, busy. He’s got a looming labor crisis that comes to a head in 2021, where Player’s Union head DeMaurice Smith has said a strike is almost a virtual certainty.  He’s at the center of a controversy about standing for the National Anthem, one that will only intensify as the discourse around race in the US intensifies as well. He’s got to figure out how to keep making money when people decide to stop paying for television, where the NFL makes the lion’s share of its money. And he’s got to convince everyone from current NFL athletes to soccer moms that the sport doesn’t cause permanent brain damage. That is literally his job description. Which makes a $4 million dollar raise seem more understandable, if still a bit grotesque to the average American just trying to get by. Especially if you make foolish attempt to try and take your family to a live NFL game without applying for a second mortgage.

That’s the weight of this job. No less than the future of America’s longstanding national pastime. Which is why Roger Goodell couldn’t care less if you hate him – and a lot of people do. Goodell is 58, which means this contract will likely be his last as Commissioner. Which means the job will be open soon enough. Parents, just something to keep in mind for your kids.

Keith Strudler is the director of the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University. You can follow him on twitter at @KeithStrudler

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management. 

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