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After A Rough Year, NFL's Roger Goodell 'Just Wants To Get Back To Football'


Time, now, for sports.


MARTIN: Football is back. And Thursday night, quarterback Tom Brady led the New England Patriots to a 28-21 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers. Brady was on fire in the NFL season opener, passing for four touchdowns. But it wasn't such a great night for NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. If he had had his way, Brady would have been benched for the first four games of the season for his role in what has become known as Deflategate, but a federal judge nullified that suspension. Mike Pesca, host of Slate's The Gist podcast joins me now to talk about Roger Goodell.

Hey, Mike.

MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: I like the construction in what has been known as Deflategate. It's one of those...

MARTIN: Yeah, like no one's heard of that, yeah.

PESCA: Our neighbor to the north, Panamanian strongman, yes.

MARTIN: (Laughter) So this isn't the only hit Goodell has taken in the last year or so. He's had kind of a tough few months.

PESCA: He's proved himself to be a bad adjudicator. He is the law but not a good one - or at least not one that sticks. If we go through the litany of cases that popped that maybe a non-NFL fan would've heard of - Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, if you remember the New Orleans Bountygate scandal, now Deflategate - he lost in court. He wound up losing in court, or at least with an appointed arbitrator - or whoever reviewed his decisions - on all of them.

So that's an embarrassment. He just seems very bad at the job of being judge. He has one conception of it, which is to be very, very hard on people, the one exception being Ray Rice. And then he wanted to be hard on them even though the collective bargaining agreement wouldn't allow it. I think he looks at the CBA a little like Putin looks at the Russian Constitution, maybe a guideline but probably not. And he's been embarrassed on a number of cases.

MARTIN: So, I mean, it can't be all bad for him. I mean, the league's not necessarily losing money, or is it?

PESCA: Hey, that - no, that Thursday night game was the highest rated television show of any kind since April, and by the end of this year, the top 20 television shows. I think 19 or maybe 20 will be NFL games. They mint money. And this is why Roger Goodell has 32 bosses, and they love the guy. Maybe you could say that anyone who's atop this enterprise - this culturally dominant enterprise -would be doing as well, but Goodell is putting money in their pocket, increasing the value of teams.

This is why he was paid $44 million a few years ago - $35 million. We actually no longer know his salary because the NFL's no longer a nonprofit. That's a whole other thing. But also, I think they value how he settled the concussion case, which was, I would say, such a favorable settlement. Maybe it was fairer to the players as they see it. But, you know, originally, the players approved and a judge said it's not even good enough for you, the players.

So they had to go back and make it richer. And the analogy I use is at that moment, when they announced the settlement of the concussion suit, if the NFL were a publicly traded company, its stock price would've gone up 15 or 20 percent because it's eliminating uncertainty - another reason why Goodell is valued by the owners.

MARTIN: OK, so real brief - football is supposed to be back. We're supposed to be happy about this. Can we be with all of this stuff looming large?

PESCA: I think so. I think that, you know, part of being an adult is really - realizing that our huge institutions - government, the church, the NFL - has flaws. And I am ready for some football, and perhaps overly excited that Bud Light is coming out with a line of cans for every team. I can see myself drinking the AFC South in an upcoming Sunday. I'm not proud of it, but, you know, the sport is so operatic and balletic that you have to put up with some of the bad.

MARTIN: (Laughter) Balletic. Mike Pesca, his podcast is The Gist. Thanks so much, Mike.

PESCA: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.