Yesterday’s U.S. District Court ruling vacating New England quarterback Tom Brady’s four-game suspension from the NFL in the Deflate-gate affair has ignited the Internet with fiery tweets of outrage, vindication, and angry calls for the resignation of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. The unavoidable question: After nine years at the helm, is he an excellent leader, as many people believe, or an awful one, as many other people believe?
I first interviewed Goodell seven years ago, by which time his priorities were already clear. When I asked him about the increasing number of players (such as Pacman Jones and Michael Vick) getting into scrapes with the law, he replied:
I believe it is serious to our brand. I think people expect certain behavior from people associated with the NFL, and I think we owe that to our fans. And I think it’s a privilege to play in this league and not a right, so I think our players are starting to get that message clearly.
He was the enforcer, and he still is. He is appealing yesterday’s ruling. Protecting the brand is his objective, and while many have complained of his harsh sanctioning of players and teams for misbehavior, we can never know what damage he has prevented.
It was also clear back then that he would be managing for the long term. Since college, the NFL has been Goodell’s only employer. He had wanted to be NFL commissioner since he was a kid. Others his age taped pictures of Johnny Unitas or Roger Staubach to their bedroom walls; Goodell told me had a picture of NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle.
An excellent profile of Goodell in yesterday’s Washington Post quotes an unnamed franchise owner saying Goodell has “universal support” among the owners and that “overall, everybody thinks he’s doing a very good job in a very, very challenging environment.” That’s no surprise. The NFL is a business, and the keys to its success are the TV contracts, the labor contracts, and the sponsor contracts, all of which Goodell has negotiated ferociously. More fundamentally, it’s the power of the brand, Goodell’s passion. The owners, as (mostly) successful business people, understand that.
Goodell’s exquisite leadership challenge is that the NFL is a unique institution in the minds of the fans. In their logical, rational left brains they understand that it’s a business. But the NFL actually lives in their emotional, irrational, far more powerful right brains, the part that really runs our lives. The great question for Goodell and the owners: When do his efforts to protect the brand inflame too many right brains and damage the business? The answer isn’t obvious. The mere fact that fans in Boston and Indianapolis are blowing gaskets over the Brady imbroglio is not necessarily a problem; millions of people are paying extra attention to the NFL one week before the season opener – in Boston.
Personally, I’ll move heaven and earth to make sure I see the Super Bowl, but I’m not an emotionally invested fan. I used to be, but I was traumatized by Super Bowl III (I was a Colts fan as a kid). It appears that virtually all the outraged calls for Goodell’s resignation come from emotionally inflamed right brains, which figures. Why else would any ordinary civilian care who runs the NFL?
I’m in the excellent-leader camp. So far I think Goodell is doing a good job balancing constituencies and keeping the NFL a breathtakingly successful business. That is ultimately his job. If the day comes when he’s making his 31 bosses poorer rather than richer, we can be confident he’ll be gone.
What We’re Reading Today
U.S. will hit China with hacker sanctions
The action, which will punish Chinese companies that benefited from cyber-theft of U.S. intellectual property, will come next week. It’s earlier than analysts expected, in order to give China time to “cool down” before President Xi Jinping visits President Barack Obama next month. The State Department urged patience until after the official visit. CNBC
Questioning Roger Goodell’s power
U.S. District Judge Richard Berman‘s decision to vacate Tom Brady‘s four-game suspension for his involvement in the Deflate-gate affair calls NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell‘s power into question. It continues a string of disciplinary losses for Goodell, in and out of court, as the NFL’s Players Union fights the commissioner over his decisions to suspend employees unilaterally. Some blame the owners for Goodell’s mistakes. The NFL said it will appeal the ruling. Sports Illustrated
Google, Waze sued over poaching database
PhantomAlert, a competing traffic app, claims that Waze, under CEO Noam Bardin, stole information from its database in 2012 in order to enhance its appeal to Google. which bought the business in 2013 for $1 billion. Fast Company
Trump’s about face
Presidential candidate Donald Trump committed to support the eventual Republican presidential nominee, even if it isn’t himself. The move clears the way for Trump’s name to go on primary ballots, but it hurts his chances of running as a third-party candidate — though the agreement isn’t legally binding. Politico
Nobody’s immune, not even Warren Buffett
The stock selloff of the past two weeks has cost Buffett‘s Berkshire Hathaway $11 billion. But don’t expect him to change his strategy. Fortune
Building a Better Leader
An honest job posting
If you want an 84-hour-a-week job that pays between $1,700 and $3,000, while you deal with “high heat” and a labor dispute, then Allegheny Technologies is the place for you. The job posting was discovered on Craigslist as the company deals with a lockout that began on August 15. Quartz
A true assessment
Marriott International CEO Arne Sorenson knows where he stands after his two predecessors, Bill and J. Williard Marriott, ran the company for a combined 85 years. “Without doubt, I will not serve the same length of time as either one of them did.” Bethesda Magazine
…starts with improving leave tracking. It’s more important than you might realize, as absenteeism costs businesses $84 billion a year in lost productivity. SmartBrief
Labor Day Tidbits
Secretary of Labor talks about the gig economy
Thomas Perez sees promise in “leave banks” for those working gig-by-gig, which would give freelancers some leeway if they were to fall ill. USA Today
When unions were on the rise…
…Labor Day was much different. This article looks back to a 1938 Labor Day celebration that included parades, speeches, and bands. TIME
Gas prices will be at an 11-year Labor Day low
At $2.44 a gallon on average, it’s bad for oil producers but great for your pocketbook this weekend. You might appreciate a mood enhancer on the road, since you probably won’t move very fast this year. NBC News
Up or Out
Max Schireson, who stepped down as CEO of MongoDB last year to spend more time with his family, will head back to work. He’s joining Battery Ventures as its executive-in-residence. Fortune
Volkswagen finance chief Hans Dieter Poetsch will become the car company’s chairman. Reuters
Leon Gorman, former CEO and chairman of L.L Bean, the company his grandfather started, died on Thursday at 80. ABC News
Fortune Reads and Videos
Hasbro, Toys R Us, Lego will benefit from Star Wars
The live “unboxing” event today will unveil toys that could become a $1-billion business for Disney. Fortune
Sam’s Club teams up with TrueCar…
…to offer an in-store auto buying program that will give members savings. It will rival Costco Wholesale Corp.’s program. Fortune
Alcoa bets big on 3-D printing
The aluminum maker will spend $60 million to build a manufacturing center that will specialize in 3-D printing and materials. Fortune
Japan has created a Google Street View…
…for cats! Fortune
“I don’t know what a business is. All a company is is a bunch of people together to create a product or service. There’s no such thing as a business, just pursuit of a goal — a group of people pursuing a goal.” — Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and Space X. Business Insider
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|Produced by Ryan Derousseau|