NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. (AP photo)
By James M. Perry
That marvelous word, pusillanimous, seems to neatly describe Roger Goodell, commissioner of the National Football League, deeply involved these days in a scandal involving domestic abuse by some of the league's biggest stars.
No one would ever have called his father, Charles Goodell, pusillanimous.
Goodell, reared in Jamestown, was one of a number of thoughtful Republican members of Congress who once upon a time turned up with some regularity from western New York -- Sterling Cole from Painted Post, Jack Kemp from Buffalo, Barber Conable from Rochester, Amo Houghton from Corning. They were all smart and well-educated. Goodell played baseball and football at Williams College and received both a law degree and a master's degree in government at Yale.
Cool, laid-back, pipe-smoking Charlie Goodell served ten years as a fairly moderate and reform-minded Republican congressman. He was one of the "Young Turks" who rousted out the old guard led by Charles Halleck and brought in Jerry Ford as the new GOP leader in the House.
He was appointed to the Senate by Governor Nelson Rockefeller in 1968 to succeed the assassinated Robert F. Kennedy. He served in the Senate for only two years -- but what courageous, glorious years they were.
Goodell probably came to the Senate already believing the war in Vietnam was a grievous mistake. He wasn't alone in holding those beliefs but he was one of the few willing to take a public stand, infuriating President Nixon, Vice President Agnew, and almost every big-time Republican in the country. Even Governor Rockefeller seemed a little stunned by his actions. Goodell introduced legislation -- Senate bill 3000 -- that would have cut off funding for the war. A copy of the bill hangs in the office of Roger, the middle of his five sons and the beleaguered NFL commissioner.
Agnew called him a "radical liberal" and said Goodell reminded him of Christine Jorgensen, the first woman to have a sex-change operation, implying, presumably, that changing his views on a major issue was something akin to changing one's sex.
Roger has said his father knew he was risking his Senate seat by taking on the pro-war Republican establishment, but he did it anyway. It was a classic profile in courage, of the sort Jack Kennedy wrote about. "He fell on his own sword politically," one GOP leader said.
He ran for a full six-year term in 1970, challenged on the left by Congressman Dick Ottinger and on the right by James Buckley, Bill's older brother. Buckley won with 39 per cent of the vote (only to lose next time around to that man of many parts, Daniel Patrick Moynihan). Charlie Goodell came in third.
Roger must think sometimes about his father (Charlie died in 1987) and how he risked his job for something he deeply believed in.
James M. Perry, a prominent veteran political reporter, is contributing regular observations for post-gazette.com. Mr. Perry was the chief political correspondent of The Wall Street Journal until his retirement. Prior to that, he covered national politics for the Dow Jones weekly, The National Observer.