Roger Goodell’s salary stunner

Great sports reporting puts $44 million payday for the NFL commissioner in context

SportsBusiness Daily reports that the National Football League gave a big raise to its commissioner, Roger Goodell, who took in $44.2 million last fiscal year.

The revelation comes after an especially praiseworthy sports reporting on the NFL in the last few months, which together raise some damning questions for the league.

As Frontline showed in its “League of Denial” blockbuster last fall, Goodell has been instrumental in covering up the NFL’s CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) crisis, which has cost and will continue to damage or end the lives of untold NFL players. Do watch the film now if you haven’t already (it just won a well deserved Polk Award, by the way).

Indeed, Goodell still won’t admit—despite overwhelming evidence— that playing football causes CTE, and he is still orchestrating a PR campaign against those who would expose it. In August, as “League of Denial” neared broadcast and the book it was based on, by ESPN’s Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru, neared publication, Goodell pressured ESPN executives to drop out of the Frontline project. Shamefully, they did, and dealt a lasting blow to the news organization’s credibility.

A couple of weeks later, Goodell settled a concussion lawsuit with 4,500 NFL players and families for three quarters of a billion dollars (recently rejected by a federal judge as potentially insufficient).

A few days after that, Goodell went on CBS This Morning and said this about why the NFL agreed to settle a lawsuit by former players for $765 million. “We compromised on our positions,” he said. “There was no admission of guilt. There was no recognition that anything was caused by football. But the reality is we want to help our players.”

Frontline’s documentary aired a month later, conclusively showing the hollowness of Goodell’s assertions.

But there’s another angle here, that while not a matter of life and death like CTE, is still critically important: The tax question.

Believe it or not, the NFL is a nonprofit. That means you and I are subsidizing Goodell’s $44 million pay via tax exemptions.

If you live in a city or state with an NFL team, you’re subsidizing it further via direct corporate welfare. Gregg Easterbrook’s October Atlantic piece on the NFL’s billion-dollar-a-year corporate welfare is required reading on that.

Plus, Goodell’s not the only NFL executive making millions of dollars a year, something the league also tried to cover up by seeking an act of Congress exempting it from new rules requiring high nonprofit salaries to be disclosed. That led to this hilarious catch by Easterbrook:

During the lobbying battle, Joe Browne, then the league’s vice president for public affairs, told The New York Times, “I finally get to the point where I’m making 150 grand, and they want to put my name and address on the [disclosure] form so the lawyer next door who makes a million dollars a year can laugh at me.” Browne added that $150,000 does not buy in the New York area what it would in “Dubuque, Iowa.” The waiver was denied. Left no option, the NFL revealed that at the time, Browne made about $2 million annually.

Wonder what Goodell would think of a salary cap for nonprofits.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum. Tags: , , , ,