Roger Goodell takes a lot of heat for being stubborn and autocratic, but nobody considers that the NFL commissioner -- named by Sports Illustrated this week as the most powerful person in sports -- might actually just have a vision of football's future that is less arrogant than the majority of the game's supporters and participants.
I actually tend to believe that Goodell's heavy emphasis on changing the game, particularly when it comes to player safety, is actually an indication that he's modest about the future of America's most popular sport. He knows that boxing and many sports before it once owned the North American sports landscape, and he knows extinction is always a potential future scenario, especially when a sport is inherently violent.
Football is not too big to fail, and I think Goodell realizes that.
“If there’s any single reason for the incredible success of the NFL, it’s because we’ve never allowed ourselves to be complacent about anything,” Goodell said in a speech at the University of North Carolina on Wednesday, per Pro Football Talk. “There is a national conversation taking place about football. We welcome it. That’s how we approach our jobs every day: Looking at changes to the game not as something to be feared, but as something we need to do as if the future of the game relies on it. Because it does. The risk of injury in football is well known, but throughout history, football has evolved and become safer and better.”
Evolution is the key. Football has wiggle room to evolve. That's an advantage that it shares with hockey. Boxing wasn't as fortunate. Gladiators and bullfighters weren't either.
The NFL will not survive as is. Rules change. They have to as more facts regarding concussions and the devastating long-term effects of injuries are revealed. Professional football is at a crossroads, but the majority of old-school fans are so set in their ways and/or caught up in right now that they don't see that the National Football League is face-to-face with changes that could either revolutionize the game or break the game, depending on who you ask.
Goodell might piss a lot of people off right now, but he might actually be saving professional football in the process.
(SI cover image comparison to Game of Thrones via Reddit)