NFL commissioner Roger Goodell gave up his entire salary, which is up to $40 million, during coronavirus pandemic

Frank Schwab
·3-min read

Is NFL commissioner Roger Goodell becoming likable? Strange times, indeed.

Coming off a personable performance during the most-watched NFL draft in history, there’s another story that paints him in a good light. Goodell, who was set to make as much as $40 million this season if incentives were hit, asked the NFL compensation committee to forego his entire salary amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to Andrew Beaton of the Wall Street Journal.

Many around the NFL did take pay cuts, according to a memo obtained by ESPN’s Seth Wickersham. The cuts ranged from 5 percent at the manager level to 15 percent for executive vice presidents. No employee with a salary of less than $100,000 had his salary cut, and nobody’s salary was cut to less than $100,000, the memo said. There was also a furlough program for those whose jobs can’t be sufficiently done remotely or whose current workload was significantly reduced. The memo said the NFL hopes to return furloughed employees to their jobs “within a few months.”

Goodell has been criticized, and rightfully so at times. He is the punching bag of all NFL fans when anything goes wrong.

But it’s hard to not respect the decision to give up a small fortune during a pandemic.

Roger Goodell gave up a fortune

Goodell volunteered to give up his salary last month and that took effect at the beginning of this month, ESPN’s Adam Schefter added. That means when Goodell was lounging on his easy chair announcing draft picks, he was doing it pro bono.

It’s easy to be cynical about someone who has made in the $30-40 million neighborhood for many years giving up his salary — presumably he has squirreled enough away to keep himself stocked in peanut M&Ms — but that’s a lot of money. Presumably Goodell giving up a salary that could have reached $40 million will ensure some of the NFL’s less-visible employees keep their jobs or avoid furloughs or a pay cut. Not all sports owners or other high-ranking executives in big corporations would voluntarily make that sacrifice.

Maybe Goodell has made you mad by suspending your team’s favorite player or some other decision that didn’t reflect well on him. Maybe part of him volunteering to give up his salary is knowing that his reputation will improve with the act. But that doesn’t make it any less meaningful.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is giving up his massive salary. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is giving up his massive salary. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Goodell in an important point in his tenure

Ironically, Goodell is giving up his salary at a time in which he’s earning it the most.

The NFL has an easier time navigating the coronavirus pandemic than almost every other sport because it doesn’t play any games until the fall. But to this point, Goodell has done a pretty good job.

He pushed ahead with free agency and the draft despite some outcry, saying it would provide fans a needed diversion. Most of the 55 million people who viewed the three-day draft would presumably say he made the right decision. During the broadcast, he struck the right balance between humor and seriousness. The NFL’s decision to make the draft into a fundraising opportunity for COVID-19 relief was a smart move too.

Goodell has pushed ahead with some offseason events but has acknowledged the pandemic in other ways, like banning free-agent and pre-draft visits and making team facilities off limits. The NFL hasn’t ignored what’s going on. It has just gone ahead with what it can, providing some positive vibes when they’re needed, without being reckless in other ways.

While Goodell’s approval rating has been low, that’s part of being commissioner of the most visible sport in the United States. How he navigates the entirety of the health crisis in terms of when and if the NFL returns to normal might be the defining moment of his time as commissioner. So far, he has done well.

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