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Op-ed: If Goodell Leaves NFL, Should Condoleezza Rice Fill His Shoes?

Op-ed: If Goodell Leaves NFL, Should Condoleezza Rice Fill His Shoes?


Condi (or a few other women) might be the right person for the NFL job.

Just a month into the NFL season, commissioner Roger Goodell has struggled -- some would even say failed. After admittedly mishandling the Ray Rice abuse case, Goodell has done little to repair his reputation. He wavered when issuing punishment for Vikings running back Adrian Peterson as Peterson faced charges of child abuse. Goodell's apparent lack of disciplinary conviction has brought out the critics, calling for the commissioner's head.

One such critic is Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democratic U.S. Senator from New York, who speculated about Goodell's claims that he had not seen the now-infamous second video of Ray Rice knocking out his then-girlfriend until the tape was released by TMZ. "If he lied to the American people, he has to step down," she said.

Terry O'Neill, the president of the National Organization for Women, and sports commentator Keith Olbermann have both called for Goodell's resignation. The commissioner seems to be losing in the court of public opinion as well, between Twitter campaigns like #ResignGoodell and the sports media.

It is evident that Goodell and the NFL higher-ups have a fundamental lack of understanding about how to handle issues of violence against women. Even before the Ray Rice incident, Goodell allegedly ignored domestic violence allegations against former Broncos and current Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall. Marshall's alleged victim, Rasheedah Watley, and her family have reportedly also asked the commissioner to step down. Marshall's history of domestic assault was documented back in 2009 in a report by ESPN's Outside the Lines.

What Marshall, Ray Rice, and Adrian Peterson all have in common is elite, revenue-boosting skills. They are, to some degree, the faces of their respective franchises, and the NFL boys' club appears more concerned with bringing in those dollars than doling out appropriate justice. Goodell admitted he got the Ray Rice case wrong. He may have lied about not having the opportunity to see the second Rice video prior to the TMZ report (ESPN's Bill Simmons, by the way, was suspended by the network for three weeks for voicing just that opinion). He issued a subsequent zero-tolerance policy to domestic abusers within the NFL, which included a six-game suspension for the first offense -- a warning that is decidedly not "zero-tolerance."

Clearly a change needs to be made. Goodell has committed a fumble even more egregious than the Miracle at the Meadowlands, and while he doesn't seem to hold his employees sufficiently accountable for their actions, the league has an obligation to act otherwise. "Many would agree that the NFL sorely needs the input of women," says YourTango CEO Andrea Miller. "It is clear by now that these matters can no longer be decided in the dark and that transparency is required, along with a female viewpoint."

Miller is not alone in her opinion, and the name on the lips of many to provide just this perspective is former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. In 2002, Rice herself referred to the NFL commissioner's post as her dream job.

As a woman of color, Rice would bring diversity to a league that currently has an all-white advisory board. She has the political wherewithal to deal with sensitive issues, like the ones we have seen arise at the start of this football season. She is a commanding public speaker and leader, and a passionate football fan. Last year she was named to the College Football Playoff Selection Committee, leading up to this inaugural year of the CFB two-game playoff.

The Washington Post's Jonathan Capehart, an out liberal who was no fan of Rice's national security policies during the Bush adminstration, actually wrote a column in September calling her, "The one person who could save the NFL." He said football is "an institution in dire need of her help."

Regardless of his successor, Roger Goodell flat-out needs to go. He is floundering in the aftermath of Ray Rice; he has been inconsistent in his punishments for players involved in pending and active legal battles; he has been criticized for not doing enough to address the very real problem of multiple concussions in the NFL and the resulting mental damage that has led to the suicides of former players. As ESPN NewYork columnist Ian O'Connor put it, Goodell's recent track record means that he, to phrase it in football terms, "can't pick up this yellow flag, stuff it back in his pocket and walk away from the pile."

But as anyone making leadership appointments can attest, getting rid of what is not working can be even more detrimental to an organization if a proper replacement is not chosen. In 2002, when Condoleezza Rice first spoke to TheNew York Times about taking the position, she was sure to affirm that she had no interest in the job until then-commissioner Paul Tagliabue was ready to step down. It is perhaps this sensitivity that has kept her from commenting on the position now.

Her passion for and knowledge of the game is trumped only by her respect for what the league stands for. "I think it would be a very interesting job because I actually think football, with all due respect to baseball, is a kind of national pastime that brings people together across social lines, across racial lines," she said back in 2002. "And I think it's an important American institution."

ANNIE HOLLENBECK began her career in sports journalism at ESPN, not long after graduating from the University of Notre Dame. She is an avid runner, a New York sports apologist, and a self-proclaimed cinephile. Annie currently resides in Los Angeles, works as the production manager at Outfest, and covers sports for The Advocate.

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