A Brief History Of NFL Commissioner Controversies: 1920 To Today

  • Rick Chandler

It’s kind of hard to believe, but there have been only eight commissioners in the history of the NFL. By contrast, there have been 44 Presidents of the United States, 266 Popes, and 1,311 head coaches of the Oakland Raiders.

The latest NFL boss of course is Roger Goodell, who as of Tuesday looked bulletproof. But with today’s news that the league had carte blanche access to the second Ray Rice elevator video and that Goodell was either too dumb or too corrupt to view it, we may be looking for another commish very soon. We have our ideas on who that should be — but that’s another post and no, not Condoleezza Rice. For one thing, she has too many unnecessary letters in her first name.

It’s a tough job, after all. Of all eight NFL commissioners, there was only one who didn’t have to wrestle with at least one big controversy or scandal. And that was the first NFL commissioner — Jim Thorpe.

Yes, fun fact: Thorpe, the multi-sport superstar who is popularly considered the best athlete of all time, was the first president of the APFA — the American Professional Football Association — in 1920 and ’21. That’s the league that two years later would become the NFL.

Thorpe was voted in for two reasons: First, the owners thought that players and fans would respect the country’s great athlete in that position. Second, Thorpe was still playing in the league — for the Canton Bulldogs. So it’s hard to get yourself into trouble when you’re never at the office.

Let’s take a look at the previous NFL commissioners, their biggest controversies and challenges and how they handled them.