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On top of his game

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 20, 2007

THE WASHINGTON TIMES Roger Goodell wasn't born to be NFL commissioner. It just seems that way.

Since taking over for Paul Tagliabue in September, Goodell used a nurturing experience that began when he interned in the league office in 1981, a gregarious nature and a tough approach to player discipline to produce a remarkable first nine months on the job.

Goodell, the 48-year-old son of the late Sen. Charles Goodell, a New York Republican, introduced a personal conduct policy for players in an effort to stem misbehavior off the field and said teams would be held accountable for the actions of their players. Under that policy, he imposed heavy suspensions on players convicted of crimes.

Goodell also banned alcohol from team functions, buses and flights. He promoted both lengthening the schedule and playing games overseas on a regular basis.

"The commissioner has definitely turned some heads," Washington Redskins player representative Renaldo Wynn said. "He's making a big statement. As a player, you have to realize that you're under a microscope and that there are consequences behind your decisions."

Goodell, of course, was fortunate Tagliabue recently had extended the collective-bargaining agreement with the players association and the contracts with the television networks, freeing him to spend time on other issues.

At Goodell's direction, for example, the NFL will study former players to attempt to learn whether there are long-term effects on brain function from playing football. For the first time, all players this year will be given brain-function tests to establish a baseline in the event of concussions, and the league yesterday convened a meeting on the subject and required doctors and trainers from every team to attend.

"Roger has definitely been out there publicly, no doubt about that," NFLPA Executive Director Gene Upshaw said. "It seems that every day he's announcing something else. He has already made his own mark."

Kansas City Chiefs general manager Carl Peterson said it's easy to see Goodell had been Tagliabue's right-hand man as the league's chief operating officer since 2001. Goodell, who spent two years with the New York Jets after his internship before returning to the league offices, dealt with everything from public relations to stadium financing and construction as part of his grooming for perhaps the most powerful job in sports.

"Roger was prepared for this position, but he's jumped in with both feet and done very, very well," Peterson said. "It serves him well that he has a great history with an awful lot of people in the NFL. Probably the best compliment that you can give him is that I haven't heard anyone have a negative word for Roger at this point."

Indeed, it's Upshaw, not Goodell, who has been feeling the wrath of the retired players. The new commissioner has been handling the controversy much more smoothly than the veteran union boss.

Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen said one reason the owners chose Goodell last summer was that he understood the complications of the job far better than any of the outside candidates could have.

"No other business runs the way the NFL does with 32 bosses [the owners]," Upshaw said. "Roger knew the job before he had it."

Goodell likes to talk about how he started at the bottom, but it was soon apparent he wasn't going to stay there long.

"There's no lack of respect for Roger just because some of us knew him when he was in the mailroom," Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney said. "I don't agree with everything Roger does, but he always tries to be fair. I don't think Roger is making these decisions to flex his muscles. He's doing what he thinks is right. He's his own person."

Indeed, the outgoing Goodell has approached the job much differently than the introspective Tagliabue.

"Roger is more of a people person than Paul, who was exceedingly bright but was also reserved and would sometimes put his attorney face on," Peterson said.

Said Bowlen: "Roger has a very strong personality and is very strong in his convictions. You know what you've got with Roger. He lets you know how he feels about things. That's important to me and I'm sure to the other owners."

Goodell particularly has been forceful on matters related to player misbehavior in a league that seemed to have chronic, high-profile problems.

Running back Quincy Wilson, for example, was arrested over the weekend for refusing a police request to leave a bar, making him the 10th member of the Cincinnati Bengals to be arrested in the past 14 months.

Goodell has come down hard on chief offenders. In May, he suspended both Adam "Pacman" Jones of the Tennessee Titans for all of the 2007 season and Chris Henry of the Bengals for eight games for numerous violations of the personal conduct policy. Goodell this month suspended Tank Johnson of the Chicago Bears for eight games.

The lengthy suspensions could have been a contentious issue among the league, franchise owners and the players union. The suspensions, after all, carry a heavy financial penalty. Jones, for example, will forfeit all of his $1.29 million base salary this season.

However, the union has been supportive, in part because players and union leaders saw action as necessary and because of the efforts of Goodell to get the NFLPA on board.

"This isn't something that just sprung up," Upshaw said. "We've been talking about these issues for 14 years. Talking to the players last season, they agreed that something had to be done."

The owners, club executives and coaches also were on board.

"I'm glad that Roger has been so aggressive about player conduct, on and off the field," Seattle Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren said. "It was something that had to be addressed."

Goodell also established a six-man Player Advisory Council, giving him direct input from those on the field and perhaps making the pronouncements from Park Avenue seem less like they're being handed down from Mount Olympus without input from those affected.

"I had never met Paul Tagliabue, but there I was sitting down with Roger Goodell," said Redskins receiver James Thrash, a 10-year veteran and a member of the council. "Everyone who was in that initial meeting pretty much anticipated what he was going to do about the off-the-field problems that we have been having. I believe that the vast majority of the players are supportive of the commissioner on this."

Indeed. Jones dropped his appeal of the yearlong suspension last week, while Henry was chastened by his eight-game banishment and Johnson said he agreed with Goodell's decision to suspend him for eight games.

Despite the high-profile moves on player conduct, Goodell's major challenge will be the CBA extension talks that figure to occur next year, three years before the pact's expiration.

"The CBA talks are a very important date on his calendar for sure, but don't forget that Roger has been at the table before as second-in-command," Bowlen said.