Can Roger Goodell handle NFL 'divisiveness?'

Parade, the Sunday supplement magazine insert for many papers, has a prophetic, but slightly incomplete cover story by John Feinstein: "Roger Goodell: How's He's Changing The NFL. As the league's commissioner, Roger Goodell faces tough choices."

Added for light Sunday reading, Parade is written and printed several weeks before final distribution, thus the article has nothing to say about Goodell's really tough choices last week. And so Feinstein analyzed what he saw as last month's tough choices.

The National Football League is confronting a number of critical issues. Among them: the impending end of a union contract; questions about the future of drug-testing; player misbehavior; the danger of brain injuries; and the expansion of the league itself, in terms both of where teams play and how many games they will play.

Feinstein hasn't added an update to the online edition so it is uncertain whether he feels the Rush Limbaugh controversy is a critical issue. And he makes no mention of the charge that the NFL, where over half of the players are black, doesn't even approach that figure in team ownership.

But just who will Goodell be negotiating with about the union contract set to expire next year?

He knows that union negotiations will be different this time, because DeMaurice Smith, who replaced the late Gene Upshaw as head of the players' union, has made it clear he is going to be a more contentious opponent at the bargaining table."I have no problem talking about the collective-bargaining agreement," Goodell says. "But I don't honestly think fans are thinking about that right now. When I talk to them, they want to talk football. That part is business. The only way they'd be interested would be if it took football away from them."


The NFL has gone 22 years without a lockout or a players' strike, far longer than any other major team sport. A work stoppage in 2011 seems a real possibility.

Uhm, what about the accusation that Rush Limbaugh's lightening rod personality would bring divisiveness to an institution that was supposedly lacking such an attitude? Or are Smith's promised contentiousness in contract negotiations and his negative comments about Limbaugh not divisive?

Goodell has a lot on his plate these days. But he's certainly not complaining."I've loved football since I was 6," he says. "I remember sleeping with my first football every night. I'm the luckiest guy in the world because I have a job I'm truly passionate about."

In all, not a bad way to view the world.

Especially when you're making $11 million to do a job you love, hopefully contentiousness and divisiveness can be handled fairly for all concerned--players, fans and owners. And that might make for a lot of contentiousness and divisiveness.