Goodell Takes Break to Honor Dad

05/20/2010
By From the Lowell Sun

By David Pevear

LOWELL -- NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell hopes UMass Lowell's 2010 graduating class remembers his commencement address for a moment or two longer than he remembered who spoke at his college commencement.

Whoever that was.

"I don't remember," Goodell said with a laugh during a conference call on Tuesday. "Believe me, that thought has been on my mind ... This is an important day for all of them. They're more interested in getting their degrees than hearing from me."

Goodell, 51, who will be UMass Lowell's commencement speaker on May 29, graduated from Washington & Jefferson College in Pennsylvania in 1980 with an economics degree. In 1982, he began working in the NFL office in New York as an administrative intern. Twenty-four years later, the former intern from Bronxville, N.Y. succeeded Paul Tagliabue as commissioner of North America's most successful sports league, rising to the job that many suspect UMass Lowell Chancellor Marty Meehan dreams of having.

Meehan is "one big football fan," noted the commissioner.

Meehan, the U.S. representative from Massachusetts' 5th Congressional District from 1993-2007, befriended Tagliabue when they met several years ago at a Washington Redskins game. Goodell, then working in the NFL's marketing department, introduced himself to Meehan and told the Massachusetts congressman about his late father, Charles Goodell, a Republican congressman from New York whom Governor Nelson Rockefeller in 1968 appointed to serve out Robert F. Kennedy's Senate term after RFK was assassinated.
Once praised by Richard Nixon as the "egghead of the Republican Party," Charles Goodell swung boldly against the Vietnam War. Spiro Agnew, Nixon's vice president, subsequently blasted Goodell as a "radical liberal." Meehan, a liberal Democrat who prides himself on his knowledge of RFK but knew little of Charles Goodell, began researching Goodell's record on civil rights and the war on poverty.

On May 29, UMass Lowell will award Charles Goodell a posthumous Doctor of Humane Letters that the NFL commissioner, his son, will accept.

A huge sports fans, according to his son, Charles Goodell died in 1987 at age 60.

"I don't look at this as having anything to do with Roger Goodell, other than I'll be fortunate to be there, and be the commencement speaker," said Roger Goodell. "I think my father's record can be a great lesson for many people."

Charles Goodell, who graduated from Williams College and Yale Law School, also penned a meticulously footnoted 400-page history of political dissent in America, titled "Political Prisoners in America," published in 1973. The NFL commissioner, with a laugh, conceded the book is a "little dry" because his father "used to read the dictionary."

While the political donations of the law-and-order NFL commissioner lean heavily Republican, Goodell last October unleashed a preemptive strike to sink conservative talk-show host Rush Limbaugh's participation in a group seeking to purchase the St. Louis Rams. The commissioner at the time said Limbaugh's "divisive comments" would not be welcome in the NFL.

Goodell, who sought input from graduating UMass Lowell seniors during a conference call last month, has thought a great deal about what he will say to the Class of 2010 in nine days. "You'll have to wait (to hear it)," he said. "I don't want to give away everything."