There was a bona fide Sports Media Thing recently, and aren’t you lucky, because I’m going to recap it right now. First, Will Leitch wrote this for Sports on Earth about ESPN’s Darren Rovell – specifically, Rovell’s special talent for getting under people’s skin (we also talked about this, albeit in less detail, when Rovell initially left CNBC for ESPN last year). Around the same time, SB Nation’s Tom Ziller got into a Rovell spat that only further illustrated said ability – in this case it almost seemed a need – to get under people’s skin. Of course, not everyone agreed with Leitch – take ex-Deadspinner/CBS writer Clay Travis (another frequently-dumped-on guy). Arguments were had. Fin.
The whole thing seemed to have little impact on Rovell, who went on to… just keep bein’ Rovell. But something he wrote today stood out to me. Why? Well, in his column, Leitch called for Rovell to embrace being disliked in a similar vein to what Skip Bayless has done:
C’mon, do the heel turn. First Take could always use a fill-in for Skip.
And on that note… you might remember a report from a few days ago that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell tripled his salary in 2011 to nearly $30 million, thanks to a hefty bonus. You might also remember we wrote about this story, largely to note how angry Goodell’s salary made many people. A lot of NFL fans really cannot stand this guy. And then, this morning… this headline, on ESPN:
Wait… it’s… it’s too perfect. It couldn’t be. Could we get another look at that, even bigger?
Has… has he actually done it? Did he read Leitch’s piece and think, “You know, that is the right idea! And to really rub everyone’s face in it, I’m going to defend Goodell making $30 million!” Keep in mind, this isn’t anything especially new where Rovell is concerned – Leitch described one of the main Rovell gripes like so:
He’s anti-fan. This goes beyond just favoring corporations. It’s actually cheering against fans. One of our haters elaborates. “Rovell seems to actively root for The Man to get over on the little guy at every turn. For instance, there was a moment during Super Bowl week when the average ticket price on the resale market dropped significantly over a 24 period. Rovell seemed genuinely disgusted that the average fan might suddenly be able to afford a ticket to the game.”
And who personifies The Man better than the guy in charge of the most successful sports league in America – the guy whose job it is to serve the league’s 32 owners, each of whom possesses otherworldly wealth? And what could be seen more as rooting for The Man than essentially saying that the rich really should get richer, thank you very much? It’s like what one of the anonymous Rovell haters Leitch quoted would write if they were trying to parody Rovell. In a word, it seemed like trolling.
But here’s the thing – since the natural gut reaction to the Goodell salary news was to shake one’s head and immediately dismiss the $30 million figure as the unfortunate fruit of soullessness, isn’t it worth it to take a look at it fro the opposite perspective? As we said before, the NFL is the most popular sports league in America. Goodell is at the head of it. People like that make tons of money. Or, as Rovell says:
Every chief executive of CBS, Viacom, Disney, News Corp, Comcast and Time Warner earned at least $110 million in the past five years. Compare that to Goodell, who runs a much smaller company but a very successful one. Goodell earned an aggregate of $66.7 million in the past five years, his first five full years at the top.
How about Estée Lauder? Yeah I know, the NFL and the beauty business don’t have much in common. But they do have business size in common. Estée Lauder does $9.7 billion in annual revenue, about the revenues of the league. Estée Lauder’s CEO has made $64.8 million over the past five years, which is very much in line with Goodell’s compensation.
One could easily look at all these numbers and say, “Well, okay, but that doesn’t make it any better. The fact that other CEOs are paid as lavishly or more lavishly than Goodell doesn’t make think he deserves it any more.” That’s all well and good, but the overall takeaway there would be: hate the game, not the player[s]. The people who run successful organizations are paid amounts of money the average person can’t imagine – that’s how it goes in the business world, and Rovell’s a business reporter. He’s done plenty to knock, but this is actually pretty benign.
But that doesn’t make him any less easy to mock for it. Maybe Goodell leading a lockout designed to make incredibly rich owners incredibly richer and talking about player safety a lot more than his actions suggest he cares about it mean he’s doing his job, but it also means he’s incredibly easy, even fun, to rip on – and so is anyone who comes to his defense.
That’s the thing with Rovell – an oft-repeated refrain by those who don’t see what all the fuss is about is, “Well, if you don’t like him, why do you follow him on Twitter?” And the answer is because it’s fun, or at least cathartic, to roll your eyes and groan when he says stuff like this. (Well, in my case, I still do think he sometimes shares things that are interesting and/or that I’m interested in writing about: see here for a recent example.) Whether or not he’s trying to be one, he’ll continue to exist as a punching bag for people because they want to have that punching bag.
The Goodell headline is a perfect example: when I saw it, I was delighted, because I immediately started imagining people seeing it and flying into a rage, and I imagined Rovell knowing people would. I don’t think Rovell is oblivious to the fact that a lot of people can’t stand him, don’t think he was oblivious even before Leitch’s column, and don’t imagine he likes that. But I don’t think he especially cares either, since through it all, he’s kept on doing his thing. And while everyone else can yell and scream about that every now and again – there are plenty of times it’s been deserved – we at least ought to admit that on some level, we like it.