Roger Goodell’s greatest fear: a death on the field

Roger Goodell is one of the most polarizing figures in professional sports. He's presiding over the nation's most popular sports league at one of its most crucial moments. Whether or not he's the commissioner we need, he's the commissioner we've got. And he's the subject of a fascinating new feature by Don Van Natta Jr. in ESPN The Magazine.

Goodell chose to decline repeated requests for an interview, which is beyond unfortunate given how much ESPN has invested in his league. But through conversations with friends and associates, we learn the commissioner's greatest fear: that a player will die on the field.

As the article notes, Goodell often tells the story of how Teddy Roosevelt saved the game of football in the early 20th century by mandating changes to a game in which 18 players died of skull fractures one year. The NFL has suffered only one on-field death: Lions wide receiver Chuck Hughes, who died of a heart attack in 1971.

And now Goodell fears it could happen again: "He's terrified of it," a Hall of Fame player told ESPN. "It wouldn't just be a tragedy. It would be awfully bad for business."

While "bad for business" is an extraordinarily casual way to refer to an on-field death, it's accurate; a death would be catastrophic for a sport already dealing with criticism for its handling of concussions and player safety. And given that Bernard Pollard, among others, has already said that there's a possibility of a death on the field, if the worst case came to pass, the NFL would be forced to undergo some serious, possibly revolutionary, self-examination.

The entire article is well worth a read. Goodell has made many enemies and frustrated quite a few people, including a substantial portion of the player base. But if he's able to navigate the league through its current problems, his reputation will undergo a well-deserved polishing.

-Follow Jay Busbee on Twitter at @jaybusbee.-

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