Condoleezza Rice for NFL commish?

It’s not often that an offhand comment about one’s dream job turns into a growing public draft to make it come true. Of course, it’s not often that the person who already has the job makes such a public debacle out of it. Roger Goodell’s handling of Ray Rice’s incident of battery on his now-wife has commentators demanding his resignation — and they have just the person in mind for it:


Condoleezza Rice made a startling admission to the New York Times in 2002. The then-national security adviser to President George W. Bush said it was “absolutely right” that she wanted to be commissioner of the National Football League. This was no joke. Rice was serious, but she wanted it to be known that she wouldn’t want to do it “before Paul Tagliabue is ready to step down.”

Well, Tagliabue is long gone and his successor Roger Goodell has made a mess of it. Time for the former secretary of state with an intense love of the game to step in and save the NFL.

That, by the way, comes from the Washington Post, an organization not exactly enamored of Rice’s performance in the Bush administration, by way of Jonathan Capehart, even less a fan than his employer. Yet Capehart looks to Rice’s expertise in diplomacy and military strategy to rescue the league. That’s not an ironic joke, but his concluding argument:

Rice really loves football, especially because of its similarities to military strategy. “I really consider myself a student of the game,” Rice told the Times in that 2002 interview. “I find the strategy and tactics absolutely fascinating.” And in talking about why she coveted the gridiron gig, the foreign policy expert who served two presidents and was provost of Stanford University said, “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. And I think it’s an important American institution.”

It’s an institution in dire need of her help.


Actually, I agree with Instapundit on this point. Given Capehart’s views of Rice’s capabilities in diplomacy and military strategy, we should be drafting her to replace John Kerry, not Roger Goodell, and perhaps a good number of other Barack Obama advisers. Goodell’s performance has been merely embarrassing, while the performance of the Obama administration on foreign policy and military strategy has been flat-out dangerous.

Mike Wise follows up Capehart’s essay with a good argument for Goodell’s ejection, regardless of who replaces him — and for the replacement of a few other folks as well:

This entire episode has taught us about the NFL from beginning to end, how a $9 billion colossus is far more concerned with preserving its image than with the behavior of its employees.

From the moment Goodell wrongly brought the couple together to help decide discipline this past June, in effect letting the perpetrator tell his story in front of his victim, who was pleading for leniency (a major ethical blunder among every domestic violence and law-enforcement agency), to the widely pilloried two-game suspension, to Goodell acknowledging his mistake by imposing tougher suspensions for domestic abuse going forward and through Monday, when nothing happened apart from what was known — except everyone got to see it.

So in case you didn’t know what a professional athlete who can push 400 pounds of weight off his rock-hard 212-pound frame looked like when sucker-punching a woman unconscious in an elevator, here’s the video, folks.

Basically, by only acting Monday, the NFL said, “You can do anything horrifically imaginable to your spouse, but don’t let anyone see it or we will look bad.”

Even if we concede the league was unable to obtain the same video a Web site was able to procure — a stretch of the imagination — we already had video of Rice hauling his out-cold fiancee out of the elevator. How did Goodell and others think she became unconscious?


In part, Goodell and the Ravens found themselves in this vice because the league had long ago set itself up as a parallel arbiter for criminal behavior unrelated to the game. They pushed the expectations of fans by punishing players for crimes apart from whatever the legal system meted out. In a special column today for The Fiscal Times, I argue that sports leagues and universities ought to stop acting as parallel courts, mainly because they perform those roles so badly and in such self-serving ways:

This swing from extreme to extreme based on little more than public opinion raises serious questions about the league’s ability to deal with crime and punishment. It should also raise questions about why the league is dealing with crime and punishment in the first place, questions that also apply to Academia as well. In both cases, attempts to either supplement or supplant the court system have produced more injustice than the opposite.

Universities and colleges have come under increasing pressure to convict students in hearings about sexual harassment and assault committed on campus. Over the last several years, the Department of Justice has pressed these schools to prove that they are complying with Title IX equality-in-education requirements by punishing bad behavior that victimizes women, whether or not it rises to the level of a crime.

The Obama administration issued a controversial opinion in April 2011 that demands schools use a “preponderance of evidence” rather than “clear and convincing evidence” as a standard for adjudicating claims, including on criminal accusations such as rape. Schools have eliminated other protections for the accused that Americans have long expected in the criminal system, such as the right to cross-examination and full discovery of all evidence prior to the hearing, among others. The result has been a rush to judgment and the creation of kangaroo courts that ruin lives, even on rare occasions when the accused get cleared.

The NFL’s parallel system of justice, as with its academic cousin, responds to a much different set of incentives and lacks the checks and balances needed for these kinds of public accounting for criminal behavior. The NFL has a right to police its teams and players to be sure that bad behavior doesn’t impact the game, such as restrictions on gambling, performance-enhancing drugs, and flagrant fouls that can seriously injure other players.

However, Colts owner Jim Irsay’s six-game suspension for driving while intoxicated and Gordon’s year-long suspension for smoking marijuana (hardly a substance that’s likely to improve performance) has little to do with the game. The league’s escalating role as arbiter of criminal behavior has fed the public expectation for punishment, and the escalating potential for high-profile missteps.


Would Condi Rice make a better commissioner than Roger Goodell? Probably, and it would be fun to watch her take the role over and make it her own. As long as the league sets itself up as a mechanism for public retribution in these matters, though, it runs the risk of having another Ray Rice incident embarrass them and expose them as self-serving scolds. The lesson they should take from this is that the courts exist for a reason, and that the league should focus on policing itself.

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David Strom 5:20 PM | April 15, 2024