NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is a popular figure on the first day of the annual entry draft as first-round picks eagerly shake his hand, give him hugs and pose for pictures as they both hold up a jersey of the proud players' new team.
Goodell is less popular among players already in the league. According to a recent USA Today poll of 300 active or practice squad players, 61 percent disapprove of the job Goodell is doing as commissioner, Mike Garafolo reports.
"I think it's obvious that I disapprove," said Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison, who has been fined more than $100,000 for hard hits throughout his career and has been one of the most outspoken critics of Goodell in recent years.
"I feel like what he's doing is not totally for the safety of players...A lot of stuff they've done, (such as) fining guys crazy amounts of money for helmet-to-helmet hits and all that and saying you're doing this for the safety of players. But yet you want to add extra games to the regular season.
"In the true interest of player safety, I would have no issue with it. But that's not what it's about. It's about money. Who hired Roger Goodell?"
According to Garafolo, the discontent is centered around Goodell's handling of increased fines for hits on defenseless receivers and quarterbacks, as well as the league's handling of the investigation into the New Orleans Saints' bounty program. There were other issues, however, including the 2011 lockout that led to the new collective bargaining agreement —which happens to grant Goodell the same authority the players bemoan — and the lockout of the referees for the first three weeks of the 2012 regular season.
Of course, Goodell's lack of popularity among the players does not come as a surprise.
Harrison, along with plenty of other players on the defensive side of the ball, have railed against Goodell for years over the increased fines for hits on their offensive counterparts. Players throughout the league were not happy with Goodell after the stiff bounty suspensions imposed on current and former Saints players Jonathan Vilma, Will Smith, Scott Fujita and Anthony Hargrove, as well as coaches Sean Payton, Gregg Williams, Joe Vitt and Saints GM Mickey Loomis.
Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Roddy White blasted the salary Goodell will make by the end of his recent contract extension. Green Bay Packers players, fans and a state official in Wisconsin were angry with Goodell after replacement officials allegedly cost the Packers a win over the Seattle Seahawks. (It should be noted that Goodell did not play on an offensive line that yielded eight first-half sacks to the Seahawks and the only reason the Packers were in the lead at the end of the game was due to a non-existent pass interference penalty on Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor in the fourth quarter which led to Green Bay's only touchdown.)
One could make the point that Goodell wouldn't be doing his job if he was well-liked by the players. Being the "face" of the league certainly plays a part in Goodell's low approval rating. Another factor is the answer to Harrison's rhetorical question of "Who hired Roger Goodell?" That would be the owners, who pay Goodell a handsome annual salary ($10 million per season, which will double to $20 million by 2019) to oversee a $9 billion per year industry.
"Anyone who has that position, who's trying to protect the league and what it stands for, is going to run into controversy," said Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, who approves of the job Goodell is doing. "There are always going to be positives and negatives that go with it, but I know that Roger in his heart has the best interests of the league...If you're appeasing everybody, you might not be doing the job well."