By From the Lowell Sun
By Jennifer Myers
LOWELL -- Are you ready for some football?
UMass Lowell has scored a touchdown, landing NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to speak at commencement on May 29 at the Tsongas Center.
Goodell, 51, is the son of late U.S. Sen. Charles Goodell of New York, for whom he will accept an honorary doctor of humane letters degree.
"Roger Goodell is an inspirational role model who can share his personal story of working his way up from intern to leader of an organization that today oversees the diverse interests of the most successful sports league in the world," said UML Chancellor Marty Meehan. "Our students will benefit from the examples set by Roger and his father, Charles, both of whom have led without compromising their beliefs."
Meehan, whose love of football is well known, first met Goodell 12 years ago at a Redskins-Cowboys game. Meehan, then a U.S. congressman, had popped into then-NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue's suite to say hello, which is when he met Goodell and his wife, Fox News Channel anchor Jane Skinner.
Goodell told Meehan that his father had succeeded Robert Kennedy in the U.S. Senate. Meehan's wife, Ellen, later needled her husband, a Kennedy fan, for not knowing more about the elder Goodell.
"I started doing some research, and Charles Goodell really had an interesting career, a real profile in courage," Meehan said.
Charles Goodell, a Navy seaman from 1944 to 1946, also served as a first lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War. A Republican, he served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1959 to 1968 before being appointed by New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller to the U.S. Senate seat after Kennedy's assassination.
"Nixon called him one of our most intellectual and best people in Congress," Meehan said. "He then became involved in the Civil Rights movement, immortalized in a famous photograph of him locking arms with Coretta Scott King and George McGovern, and was the first Republican to stand up against the Nixon administration's handling of the war in Vietnam."
Meehan said Charles Goodell's independent spirit and his son's strong work ethic and no-nonsense reputation for holding players to the highest standards make them excellent role models for the university's graduating class.
Roger Goodell began his career with the NFL in 1982 as an intern, a position he received after penning several letters to the league office and all 28 teams. Over the years he worked his way up through the ranks until being tapped to succeed Tagliabue in 2006.
In 2007, he instituted a strict player-conduct policy and, since then, has come down hard on players who exhibit questionable conduct on and off the field.
In an ironic twist, UMass Lowell does not have a football team. The program was eliminated by then-Chancellor William Hogan in 2003 due to budget cuts.
Meehan said the prospect of football coming back to the university is unlikely, both due to the expense and the complication of Title IX, which dictates parity between men's and women's sports.
"We have great athletic programs and it would make more sense to go to Division I in the sports we do have," he said. "Football is an expensive sport and I know there is a lot of alumni interest in reinstating it. I would tell the alumni that if they want to raise the money, we could do it, but it would take about $1.5 million. Our fundraising focus has been on scholarships."
In addition to the commencement, a scholarship will be established at UMass Lowell in Charles Goodell's name. Roger Goodell will also speak at the Commencement Eve Celebration, which benefits the university's scholarship fund. In addition to the Goodell scholarship, an endowment will be established in the names of Richard and Doris Kearns Goodwin, who will also receive honorary degrees at commencement.
Richard Goodwin is a playwright, author and professor who served as an adviser and speechwriter to Presidents Lyndon Johnson, John F. Kennedy and Sen. Robert Kennedy. Doris Kearns Goodwin is a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian. The Goodwins live in Concord.
Other honorary-degree recipients include Gloria Ladson-Billings, a professor of urban education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Alan Lightman, winner of the 1996 Andrew Gemant Award of the American Institute of Physics, for linking science with the humanities.
The university will also bestow its Distinguished Alumni Award on Bonnie Comley, Class of '81, who has produced, acted and written for television, film and theater for more than 30 years. She has produced Broadway shows such as Come Fly Away and All About Me, and has won a Tony Award, a Drama Desk Award, the Actors Fund Medal of Honor and an Ovation Award.
The Commencement Eve Celebration will be held on Friday, May 28, at 6 p.m. at the UMass Lowell Inn and Conference Center. Commencement is the following day at the Tsongas Center.