Absolutely Roger: A Hobbesian outlook of the NFL and its Commissioner

Thomas Hobbes was a pessimist. Quite simply, he believed the world is inherently a dangerous place and thus, people live in constant fear of each other. In a state of nature, there exists this lack of authority or governing body that would protect such people from the dangers of the world. In Hobbes’s Leviathan, he introduces a proposal that, in the state of a lack of authority, a powerful and absolute sovereignty should form.  A sovereign has supreme authority and has full right and power to govern without interference from outside sources or bodies. There are no areas of law or policy reserved for being outside of its control. As Hobbes explicitly states, in order to achieve sovereignty, the public must “confer all their power and strength upon one man, or upon one assembly of men”. Hobbes’s ideals, however loathed by popular opinion, are still alive today in the single largest, most popular social sports construct today: the NFL.

Thomas Hobbes emphasized the idea of absolute sovereignty.

The NFL, the most powerful and influential sports league in America and perhaps the world, is ruled by one man, and man only, Roger Goodell. Goodell, the acting commissioner of the NFL since 2006, is more than an overseer or captain of an industry that’s enormously popular, financially sound and culturally ascendant; he is the absolute monarch. Hobbes believed that in an absolute sovereign, all powers shall be undivided and controlled by one individual or a small, collective group.

Roger Goodell is a true Hobbesian leader.

We find such power in the NFL.  Goodell is seen as the judge, jury, and executioner in all legal and disciplinary matters that arise, such as handing out year long suspensions in the bounty-gate scandal, despite scant evidence to do so, or Ray Rice’s original and highly controversial two-game suspension. All punishments are unilateral and there’s no checks and balances in place to monitor his rulings. He has absolute power to deal out player conduct rulings as he sees fit. If conflict in the ruling were to ever develop, there isn’t even a separate appeals committee in place to handle such proceedings. Nope, if a player appeals a ruling, the appeal heads straight back to the man who initially levied the punishment in the first place. And while some may believe his power is unjust, he is able to rule without interference from other parties. As Falcons wide receiver Roddy White told ESPN, “whatever he says, that’s the end of it.” Goodell can also step outside the bounds of league protocol without fear of retribution. He suspended Oakland’s Terelle Pryor and Colts assistant coach Jim Tressel for violations committed while in they were college and under the jurisdiction of the NCAA, suspensions that were outside of his authority to rule on. There is, as Hobbes believed in an absolute sovereign, nothing outside Goodell’s jurisdiction to rule on.  Goodell is truly on his own in the rulings. In 2007, Patriots coach Bill Belichick and his assistant coaches were caught using a secret videotaping system of their opponents. Goodell then launched and spearheaded a confounding investigation. He decided on the punishment in five days, fining Belichick $500,000 and the team $250,000 and stripping New England of a first-round draft choice. He then promptly shut down the case, ordering the videotapes to be destroyed immediately. His swift and all-encompassing ruling, along with the absence of evidence, begs the question of what exactly was on those tapes and their implications of the league. No matter, Goodell had the power to do destroy them, and he exercised his authority to do so.

Roger Goodell’s perceived cover-up of Bill Belichick’s Spygate tapes went unpunished.

In March of 2013, Goodell graced the cover of Sports Illustrated as he was named the most powerful figure in sports. Patriots owner Robert Craft, an influential man in his own right, told ESPN that Goodell “runs the NFL as if he owns it.” And in Hobbes’s sense, he does. His ability to control player disciplinary actions in an effort to keep up the integrity of the league is parallel to Hobbes’s belief of an absolute sovereign. Goodell is free from the bounds of checks and balances and is an absolute authoritative figure.


One comment

  1. mkweihs · November 6, 2014

    I think that your article is very interesting and addresses an interesting topic which is connected very thoughtfully to the content in our course. You illustrate with a lot of examples how Goodell fulfills Hobbes’ criteria of a absolute monarch and a long with this, you show how Hobbes’ theory work and make it better understandable. However, as the NFL or American football in general is pretty limited to the U.S., I wouldn’t consider it as the most important sports insitutions in the world – as an European, I wouldn’t neglect the role of soccer and the FIFA (but see this such as a random note 😉 ). I know that the words and the length of our blog posts is quite limited, but it would have been interesting as well how other athletic institutions are lead and the differences to Goodell and the NFL. Moreover, you might have offered a short overview of Goodell biography, his main tasks as president of the NFL, other positions that he’s holding and the resulting consequences. The president of the FIFA, Joseph Blatter is for example also member in the commitee of the Olympic Games. Nevertheless, your blog post was very easy to read and informative.


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