Share this article

print logo

The 'other' Goodell: How NFL commissioner's dad ran afoul of Nixon

As a U.S. senator, Charles Goodell, father of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, ran afoul of the Nixon White House in opposing the Vietnam War - and ended up a Republican outcast.

Roger Goodell asked Robert Mueller to conduct an independent investigation of the NFL 32 months before the Justice Department appointed Mueller to conduct an independent investigation of President Trump's connections to Russia.

The NFL often borrows devices implemented by our political institutions. Its outgoing executive vice president of communications and public affairs was White House press secretary for Bill Clinton.

Goodell has reckoned several scandals commonly known by Watergate-inspired suffixes: Spygate, Bountygate, Bullygate, Deflategate.

Many have labeled Goodell's decisions Nixonian. His league has become a political platform where players engage in civil demonstrations. President Trump mocks Goodell and used the protesters as an applause line in Tuesday night's State of the Union address.

Goodell oversees one of the world's most dominant entertainment empires, a superpower with an estimated $14 billion in revenues this season, up from $6.6 billion the year before he became commissioner. He will preside over the NFL's crowning event Sunday, when the New England Patriots play the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII.

You might assume Roger is the most distinguished of all Goodells, a family with deep roots in Buffalo and the Southern Tier, a lineage traceable to a compulsory oath of allegiance to King Charles I before they left England in 1634.

Roger, because of his fame, almost certainly will be recalled generations from now as more relevant than his father. People will believe Roger made a bigger impact on American history, but how proper would that be?

Charles Goodell was a congressman from Jamestown, appointed by Gov. Nelson Rockefeller to the U.S. Senate after Robert F. Kennedy's assassination, a Republican opponent of the Vietnam War, the first statesman to propose legislation to defund a war, bane of the Nixon White House, arm-in-arm marcher with Coretta Scott King, a political casualty later vindicated by Watergate, one of Daniel Ellsberg's defense attorneys in the Pentagon Papers case, chairman of President Gerald Ford's Clemency Board for Vietnam draft dodgers, a masterful foreign lobbyist who negotiated the Concorde's first American landing rights.

Ford was a dear friend. Goodell collaborated with Rockefellers and Kennedys. His name might've been scrawled first on Nixon's notorious "enemies list." Jane Fonda sought his guidance. Noam Chomsky and Dr. Benjamin Spock endorsed him; John Wayne appeared in a television ad to unseat him. Hillary Clinton was a college intern.

"I've never quite understood," said Goodell's press secretary, George Mitrovich, "how has his story not resulted in a book?"

Charles Goodell largely has been forgotten despite his principled stand against authority.

Yet if not for Roger's stature through the NFL, Charles wouldn't be remembered remotely as much.

"Charlie's contribution I hope will catch the eye of some historian someday," said Michael C. Smith, an aide for Goodell's failed 1970 re-election campaign.

Few dared to stare down Nixon as early and as boldly as Goodell did.

When the White House got through with Charles, few could bear to look at the carnage.

Nixon's henchmen destroyed Charles politically and wrung the spirit out of him. The White House mounted a campaign to belittle Charles, suggested he was a traitor, a subversive, less than a man. He finished a distant third in his re-election bid.

"He truly believed," Smith said, "he could have an effect and had willingness to do what had to be done because it was right even when he was being bad-mouthed by Spiro Agnew and abandoned by Nelson Rockefeller. It didn't matter.

Charles E. Goodell in 1974. (Buffalo News file photo)

"He never faltered. He never blinked. He never tripped. For his time, of 1968 to 1970, he was one of the great participants in the public arena."

Two aides said that Charles was so devastated by the annihilation he had a mental breakdown and checked into a hospital. His second wife said she had no knowledge that he was hospitalized. An aide who requested anonymity said Charles' children might not have known.

Charles' children declined to be interviewed for this story. Roger Goodell was approached in October and again in January. Messages left with his brothers were returned by the NFL. Mitrovich, Charles' press secretary, asked three of the Goodell sons to talk but was rebuffed or ignored.

Their mother, Bennett High alum Jean (Rice) Goodell, died in 1984. She was only 53, breast cancer having spread to her brain. Three years later, Charles had a heart attack and died at 60.

Nearly five decades after Goodell's defeat, his staffers' voices still downshift into a low gear when remembering what Nixon and other Republicans did to him, as if speaking about the dead two times over.

"We were trounced," said David Dawson, a family friend from Jamestown and campaign volunteer. "He took it badly. He was very committed to ending the Vietnam War. He was sick about the kids coming home in body bags.

"He went against the White House, and he was really crucified for it. It really ate him up. It probably reduced his lifespan."

Tanya Melich, research director for Goodell's 1970 campaign, has boxes of his position papers and press releases in her closet at home. She pulled them out for the first time last month. She contemplated writing a remembrance of her beloved boss.

"But it was so painful," Melich said. "I still could not do it."

Charles never ran for office again.

Stories about Charles Goodell's family and his legacy have been rare. Those that have been published were attempts to learn about the NFL commissioner through some sort of journalistic psychoanalysis on a man who guards his privacy and a father who has been dead 31 years.

Comparisons between father and son are inevitable. Mitrovich and Smith, each citing instances of Roger's mishandling controversial NFL issues, expressed disappointment that Roger's leadership style hasn't measured up to the example Charles set forth.

Some have said Roger is more his mother's son anyway.

"I think Roger's tenacity in running the NFL," Dawson said, "whether you agree with it or not, is a legacy of Charles' tenacity. Charles attempted to be a different type of politician as was really accepted at that time."

Then there's Ellsberg, who put any Goodell comparison into a broader perspective. Ellsberg is a former war theorist, military whistleblower and nuclear-arms analyst.

Asked last week what he sees of Charles Goodell in the NFL commissioner, Ellsberg didn't know who Roger was.

A mother's secret

Jean Rice Goodell in 1970. (News file photo).

Why did she confide in Roger and not any of her other four sons?

Roger was on break from his freshman year at Washington & Jefferson College when his mother made him promise not to repeat her secret. Jean Goodell told her middle child she had a lump in her breast and hadn't been to the doctor yet.

"I really didn't know what to do because the divorce was becoming final around then. So she wanted to wait until May," Roger said through tears at an AOL speakers series two days before Mother's Day 2015.

"So if there's a regret in my life it's probably, geez, if I hadn't kept my promise on that one, maybe she'd be alive today."

In 1982, a year removed from graduation, Roger landed an internship with the NFL while living at his mom's suburban Bronxville, N.Y., home. Her illness had worsened.

Roger cared for his mother until she died in March 1984.

"I had the benefit of being able to live with my mother the last two years of her life, just the two of us," Roger said. "This was an opportunity, having her take care of me for all of my life, for me to be able to take care of her."

Jean Goodell flirted with a congressional run in 1976, but her life's work was her children.

They've been successful.

William Rice Goodell, 62, is a finance executive in San Francisco. Timothy Bartlett Goodell, 60, is senior vice president and general counsel for Hess Corp. in New York. Roger Stokoe (Jean's mother's maiden name) Goodell will be 59 in two weeks. Michael Charles Ellsworth Goodell, 57, is an exercise instructor in Los Angeles. Jeffrey Harris Goodell, 55, has been in education.

She had her five boys within seven years, finally resigning herself to not getting a daughter. She and Charles considered adopting an orphan girl from Biafra, where he visited on a humanitarian trip in 1969.

Rep. Charles E. Goodell of Jamestown is surrounded by his five sons, including the newest arrival Jeffrey Harris born August 17, 1962. Holding Jeffrey is Timmy, 5. Taking a shot at the basket is Roger, 3, while Billy, 6, holds the basket. Looking on with the Congressman is Michael Charles, 2. (Buffalo News file photo).

Jean had at least one son at home for 28 of her 53 years, but she also had voids.

Powder-puff society profiles, common for politicians' wives in the day, indicated Jean was lonely for companionship much of her life.

"There was a time when I was very hurt that he would care more about politics than us," Jean told the Gannett News Service in April 1969, when Charles was a senator, "but we know we are No. 2 and have accepted it."

Much of that feature was about the way Jean held down a household while Charles was away, her favorite meals to cook, how many formal dresses she owned.

The story opened with Jean answering the doorbell with a black eye from roughhousing with her rascals. She was in the process of rearranging the house, turning the garage into a makeshift study. But she said the spinet piano would stay right where it was.

"Charlie gave me that for a Christmas present," she said. "Playing it is my therapy when I'm lonely and I miss him."

Her devotion to Charles echoed in an August 1969 Buffalo Evening News feature from their vacation home at Chautauqua Institution. Charles was in Washington.

"I wouldn't take this life away from Charles for anything," Jean said, "because he loves and thrives on it. It's just that he's away so much I sometimes feel I'm not taking care of him, not cooking for him or being important to him in the little wifely things."

Jean Rice graduated from Bennett High and Millard Fillmore School of Nursing. She was a registered nurse at Millard Fillmore Hospital for about three years before marrying Charles.

They'd met on a blind date arranged by her sister and his old Williams College roommate, but Jean wouldn't see him again for nearly four years.

He finished law school at Yale, where he also received a master's degree in government, and then served in the Air Force during the Korean War. He was in the naval reserve for World War II.

When Charles returned to Buffalo, he reconnected with Jean. They went on two more dates and got married in 1954 at Central Presbyterian Church. She wore a Swiss organdy gown over taffeta, with a cathedral-length train. She carried Eucharist lilies and stephanotis.

Jean gave up her nursing career to have a family. The Goodells maintained four homes while Charles and Jean were together. They started out on Fairmount Avenue in Jamestown, where he was an attorney.

When Charles won a special election upon Rep. Daniel A. Reed's death in 1959, they bought a house in D.C. The family moved in 1971 to Bronxville, a wealthy Westchester County village just north of Manhattan.

The Goodells summered at their Chautauqua Institution home throughout; the boys and their families still do.

The Goodell family vacationing on Chautauqua Lake in 1969. In the boat are Tim, 12; Billy, 13; Jeffrey, 7; Michael, 9; Roger, 10, and Sen. and Mrs. Goodell. (Buffalo News file photo).

"I thought I was marrying a country lawyer and we would live forever in Jamestown, bringing up children," Jean said.

Awakened by an assassination

David Dawson was asleep in the Goodells' attic guestroom. Charles roused him from bed around 3:30 a.m. Washington, D.C., time on June 5, 1968.

Sen. Robert F. Kennedy was campaigning for the Democratic nomination for president in Los Angeles. He had been shot three times, once in the back of the head.

"He woke me up and said, 'I want you to come downstairs and watch TV with me. Something's happened in California,' " Dawson recalled.

Dawson, a 19-year-old business student from Jamestown, had volunteered for the upcoming Republican National Convention. The man he called "Uncle Charles" insisted Dawson save money and stay with them.

Dawson considered himself "the sixth Goodell brother." But in 1968 oldest son Billy was only 12, far too young to sit vigil in front of the television through dawn.

Two months earlier, Martin Luther King had been assassinated in Memphis. Four months earlier, North Vietnam unleashed the Tet Offensive on U.S. allies in South Vietnam.

"The world was going crazy," said the CEO of Dawson Metal Co. and Dawson Doors in Jamestown, a former Chautauqua County executive. "In '68, it felt like things were coming apart."

Neither Dawson nor "Uncle Charles" could have known, as they absorbed bleak updates about RFK's condition over the next 26 hours, that three months later Gov. Nelson Rockefeller would appoint Goodell to replace John F. Kennedy's little brother as U.S. senator from New York.

Charles at 33 had been the second-youngest member of Congress.

On Sept. 12, 1968, he became the nation's youngest senator. He was 42.

Rep. Charles E. Goodell, standing, right, poses with the House Republican Leadership as the 90th Congress gets underway in 1967. Standing, from left, are Rep. Bob Wilson of California, Rep. William Cramer of Florida, Rep. Richard Poff of Virginia and Rep. John Rhodes of Arizona. Seated from left, Rep. Melvin Laird of Wisconsin, Rep. Gerald Ford of Michigan and Rep. Les Arends of Illinois. (Buffalo News file photo).

White House showdown

By 1971, Ronald Reagan was being asked if the Republican Party had room for Charles Goodell anymore.

"I wonder," Reagan replied, "if there is room in Charles Goodell for the Republican Party."

Charles within two and a half years had gone from GOP darling to outcast.

He'd been viewed as a strong Republican. He was chairman of the Chautauqua County Republican Committee when enlisted to fill the late Daniel Reed's vacancy in Congress. An early biographical release mentioned Charles' 10-week-old son, Roger, was born the morning Reed died.

Charles and other young Republican congressmen, feeling ineffective within the party construct, staged a coup. The Washington Post called Charles the "arch-conspirator" of a 1964 uprising that ousted minority leader Rep. Charles A. Halleck of Indiana and elevated Rep. Gerald Ford of Michigan.

With his moderate voting record, Charles campaigned for Nixon against JFK in 1960 and against Hubert Humphrey in 1968. Rockefeller favored Goodell. Nixon found Goodell a reliable ally.

Strategies for currying favor and winning Republican elections in Chautauqua County, however, are substantially different than trying to honor all of New York State in the U.S. Senate.

Charles incensed the White House by becoming its most visible and nagging Republican opponent.

Former Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy II, RFK's oldest son and Citizens Energy chairman, wrote in an email to The Buffalo News: "As a senator, Charles Goodell showed tremendous political courage to criticize President Richard Nixon, come out strongly against the Vietnam War and sponsor legislation to spur economic development to help the poor."

Charles said he supported Nixon in '68 because of a supposed plan to end the war completely, but came to understand Nixon's plan was to withdraw troops and escalate bombing.

Former aides and associates insisted RFK's presence changed Goodell's perspective, that he was a man of conscience and simply evolved. Friends from Chautauqua Institution recognized those traits. They were what made him and his family such a wonderful fit at the enlightenment enclave.

"Being appointed to Bobby Kennedy's seat," Ellsberg said last month, "he was accused at the time of expanding his interest in the anti-war proposals just to appeal to a broader constituency.

"But my experience of him was he was totally sincere on that point and very passionately engaged in the necessity to end the war.

"He was a model for courage at the time. He realized we were in a catastrophe."

Cynics believed his re-election motive was transparent. He was called "Changeable Charlie." Vice President Spiro Agnew labeled him a "radical liberal," among the tamer insults Agnew spewed.

"Frankly, it surprised me he flipped so much on issues," Democrat Stan Lundine, former congressman, New York lieutenant governor and Jamestown mayor, said last month. "But I think it was a matter of conscience. These were opinions that he came to independently."

Among the most revelatory moments for Charles, his aides say, was an April 11, 1969, appearance at Cornell University, where tensions soared and eight days later black students took over Willard Straight Hall as a civil rights protest.

Charles answered students' concerns about his sudden political transformation.

"I've never seen a public official subjected to the type of anger and questioning these students had," Mitrovich said.

Bruce Detweiler from Students for a Democratic Society said that day, "As a conservative running in New York State, he doesn't have a ghost of chance. He must appear to be a liberal."

Words were put into action that September with a decision that, aide Michael C. Smith said, "put the target on Charlie's back."

Charles proposed S-3000, a bill to end the Vietnam War by December 1970 or eliminate the money that kept it heaving.

Charles E. Goodell in 1974. (Buffalo News file photo)

"Do I believe his new position on the war was principled and his old one was not? I don't know," Pat Buchanan, a senior adviser for Presidents Nixon, Ford and Reagan, said last month. "But Charlie made his call, and we had to make ours."

The White House's call was to pulverize Goodell, to humiliate him, to make sure he didn't win re-election in 1970.

Charles didn't flinch. A fiscal conservative, he nevertheless had been a champion for social justice, supporting the 1960 and 1964 Civil Rights Acts, the 1965 Voting Rights Act, equal pay for women and constitutional protections for homosexuals. He proposed the original Head Start program in 1965.

But he emerged as the prominent Republican voice against the war.

"There was a sense that Charlie had abandoned us," Buchanan said. "He was taking the lead in really hammering Nixon on the war again and again and again.

"He was really undercutting the president on the issue of the greatest concern, which was to hold the line in Vietnam and get out in a way that wouldn't put everything we fought for down the sewer."

At the Vietnam Moratorium March on Washington in November 1969, Charles locked arms with Coretta Scott King and National Welfare Rights Organization activist George Wiley. On King's other arm was Rep. George McGovern, a Democrat from South Dakota.

They walked down Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol, past the White House and to the Washington Monument.

"Once he stuck his head out of the trench and started to take fire," Smith. the former aide, wondered, "what it was that enabled him to keep going instead of to back down and say, 'Gee, maybe I better rethink this?' I do not know.

"I can only attribute it to personal character, courage and commitment."

In May 1970, three days after the U.S. invaded Cambodia, the Ohio National Guard shot and killed four students during a protest at Kent State.

One of Mitrovich's responsibilities as press secretary was to keep Charles apprised of breaking news. He knocked on the senator's door and told him what had happened.

"Tears formed at the corner of his eyes," Mitrovich said. "He turned his chair around and looked out the window. All there was was an office building across the street. And he stayed there for a couple minutes.

"He turned back around and said, 'What is happening to our country?' I wasn't accustomed to seeing a U.S. senator reduced to tears."

Behind the scenes, Nixon pulled puppet strings. He silently welcomed James Buckley, running on the conservative line, to run for Charles' seat. Rockefeller cut off money to fund Charles' re-election campaign.

Charles E. Goodell receives congratulations from his mother, Francesca, after his Senate inauguration in 1968. (News file photo)

Dawson would chauffeur Uncle Charles to a campaign stop only to discover it had been canceled. Or maybe it would be swamped with protesters. Or an event would be mysteriously set up without their knowledge, making Charles look shabby when he didn't show.

"We couldn't figure out what the heck was happening out in the field," Dawson said. "We were the trial run for Richard Nixon's dirty tricks campaign because they were so" mad at Charles.

Polls showed Charles was running third. He and Democratic candidate Richard Ottinger were splitting votes, leaving Buckley a clear path to the Senate.

The onslaught intensified when Agnew hit the national campaign trail. He spat venomous salvos at Charles and, in a cruel White House double dip, perhaps made him more sympathetic to liberal voters.

Buchanan explained Charles was polling so low the White House grew increasingly worried about Ottinger. By making Charles the Republican pariah, more liberals might vote for Charles instead of Ottinger and ensure a Buckley victory.

Agnew's most vicious line came in October 1970, when he called Charles "the Christine Jorgensen of the Republican Party." Jorgensen, a former Army private, made headlines in the 1950s as the first American to publicly announce she was a transsexual.

"They regarded Goodell as insufficiently manly in support of the war and essentially a woman, which in those days, and to a certain extent still now in this patriarchy, was regarded the ultimate insult," Ellsberg said.

Buchanan said he had written the Jorgensen insult for Agnew, but claimed Nixon reviewed the speech and scratched the line for being too disrespectful. Agnew, though, had seen the draft and decided to unleash the haymaker anyway.

The White House's plan worked perfectly. Buckley won the election with only 39 percent of the votes. Ottinger finished second at 37 percent. The incumbent drew merely 24 percent.

Agnew, watching the results in Washington, proclaimed, "We got that son of a bitch."

"The ramifications for that moral decision by the senator were severe," Mitrovich said. "The immediate effect was he wound up in a hospital. Those of us who loved Charlie Goodell were very concerned.

"I'm sure there was a medical diagnosis, but many of us thought it was the strain of a challenging campaign, and then you lose, and all the things you cared about and fought for, particularly to a guy like Buckley, were lost."

Charles' second wife, Patricia Goldman, disputed Mitrovich's memory as romanticizing the fall of a political hero. She said Charles wasn't hospitalized then "to the best of her knowledge," and figured the Goodell sons would know better. They ranged from 8 to 15 years old at the time.

The Goodell family suffered from the 1970 campaign, too.

"Especially since Charles fell in love with another woman as well," Dawson said. "Jean suffered. There's no question about it.

"She dedicated her life to her family. It was very personal and very difficult for Jean during this period. She was a lovely, lovely woman, a terrific mother to the boys and a terrific wife to Charles."

Buchanan said he has heard that Roger Goodell hates him, "and that's understandable." The NFL commissioner has indicated in interviews the Goodell boys never will forget what Nixon's people did to their father.

"I think that scorched-earth policy from the Nixon White House on Charlie had to have an effect upon all of the boys," Melich said. "If you're 11 years old like Roger was, you remember that."

Years later, Mitrovich introduced himself to Buchanan at an event. Buchanan apologized for the wickedness of 1970.

Reached last month, though, Buchanan conceded nothing.

"No regrets," Buchanan said. "I believe we did the right thing. Charlie Goodell set his course. He was undermining the president's policy on Vietnam.

"What we did was legitimate. It was successful. It was justified. There was nothing vindictive about it. Charlie started it."

Down, not out

Smith was co-director of The People for Goodell, an offshoot of the re-election campaign that appealed to young voters, anti-war protesters and others the Republican Party normally had trouble courting.

Melich recalled the energy of the offices, that there never was a shortage of volunteers who wanted to help research, write press releases or canvas.

But defeat was quiet.

"His phone wasn't ringing," Smith said. "He wasn't quite a recluse, but he didn't play a public role. People weren't calling him and asking his opinion very often."

Charles was an attorney again. He worked for firms in Washington and New York. He registered as a lobbyist, representing foreign governments and companies looking to do business in the U.S. He remained an outspoken social reformer, writing the 1973 book "Political Prisoners in America."

He found vindication with the Watergate scandal. It chased Nixon from the White House and sent people to federal penitentiaries.

Charles' old friend, Gerald Ford, who had replaced the toxic Agnew as Nixon's vice president, moved into the Oval Office.

The Buffalo News reported in August 1974 that Charles could be Ford's running mate in 1976 and that perhaps Ford was close to naming him for a Cabinet position, possibly attorney general.

Ford in September 1974 named Charles chairman of the Clemency Review Board, an amnesty program for those convicted of draft dodging or desertion.

"That was a very healthy and important road back to respectability and relevance," Smith said. "I thought it was only fair that after a guy contributed so much and then failed so publicly at least got a little gratitude back."

Old-line Buffalo

Goodell Street begins where BFNC Drive veers from its path alongside the Kensington Expressway and tracks in a one-way direction northwest for five blocks until it hits a notch of Main Street and forks off into Pearl and Edward Streets near St. Louis Church.

Goodell Street first passes St. John Baptist Church on the right, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on the left, then the McCarley Gardens townhouses, University at Buffalo's Millard Fillmore College, the Trico plant, Eastman Machine Company and finally between the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo's offices and the Sidway Building.

Goodell Street wasn't named for Charles Goodell, as has been reported elsewhere, but for one of Buffalo's pioneer settlers and earliest philanthropists, Jabez Goodell.

They're all related, with lineage traced to America's original Goodell in the book, "A Genealogy of the Descendants of Robert Goodale/Goodell of Salem, Mass." by George E. Williams.

"The Goodell family was as prominent in Western New York and the Southern Tier as the Kennedy family was in Massachusetts," said Melich, the Goodell campaign research director.

Robert Goodell was born in 1601 and immigrated from Dennington, England, to Massachusetts with his wife and three small children in 1634.

Jabez, born in 1776, was a sixth-generation Goodell; Robert was his great-great-great grandfather.

The NFL commissioner is a 12th-generation Goodell and a fourth cousin, six times removed to the man our Goodell Street is named after.

Buffalo History Museum documents show Jabez traveled here from Holland, Mass., in 1806. In a letter to three historians in search of early Lake Erie region memories, he recalled Buffalo then had "about four shops, consisting mostly of Indian goods, and a small drug shop. ... There was also one blacksmith, one shoemaker and one carpenter and joiner."

Goodell Street ran through Jabez's property. He had been a schoolteacher and invested in land. He operated the Broadwheel Tavern at the corner of Goodell and Main Streets. When the British attacked Buffalo in December 1813, his original home was burnt down with much of the town.

He rebuilt, at the corner of Goodell and Oak Streets, the house later owned by Mayor Solomon Scheu.

Jabez donated 10 acres and $10,000 to newly formed Buffalo Female Academy (now Buffalo Seminary) to build a 30,000-square-foot school. He died in September 1851, and 10 months later Goodell Hall opened at the school's original location at Johnson Park near Delaware Avenue.

Jabez Goodell's donations to the school would equal about $480,000 today. In 1915, Buffalo Historical Society secretary Frank H. Severance noted the Goodell estate was worth $400,000 when Jabez died, about $12.4 million today.

Fifteen years after Jabez's death, a cousin was born in Springville.

Charles Ellsworth Goodell  moved with his parents to Buffalo in 1888. He graduated from Masten Park High and returned to run the family farm in Springville, but eventually graduated from University at Buffalo's medical program, was a resident at Buffalo General Hospital and in 1912 moved to Jamestown to open a private practice.

Dr. Goodell and his wife, Francesca, had six children. She graduated from Springville-Griffith Institute and Smith College, was president of the Jamestown and Chautauqua County Medical Auxiliaries and president of the WCA Hospital's ways and means committee.

But the first sentence of her April 1977 Buffalo News obituary refers to her as the mother of U.S. Sen. Charles Goodell.

There is no mention of any grandchild, let alone the one whose name would be noted in the first sentence today.

Timeless ideals, outdated definitions

Goldman ventures her late husband would be a political orphan today.

She, too, was a liberal Republican. In the 1990s, she was president of a group that raised money for pro-choice Republican women to run for office. Jimmy Carter appointed her to the National Transportation Safety Board in 1979.

She couldn't suppress her laughter when asked how Charles would view today's political landscape.

"It would be very difficult," said Goldman, who married Charles in 1978. "He may, like so many others, have just left the party. I couldn't imagine him staying in the party as it is today."

Rep. Charles E. Goodell of Jamestown (R-NY) shakes hands with President Johnson at a bill signing ceremony in the White House. in December of 1963. (News file photo)

Charles' former staffers savored the thought of how he would handle Donald Trump.

Smith: "There's no way he would have supported Trump for president. I'm quite sure he would be harshly critical of all of the things Trump and his supporters have been doing to both the Republican party and to the country."

Melich: "He would've stood up. He would question the president's positions on issues. He would want to know what's happening in North Korea and our relationships with NATO allies. He would've been a traditional supporter of the foreign policy developed after World War II."

Mitrovich: "There's no conceivable way he would have ignored someone like Trump. In that now-infamous meeting when the president referenced these countries as s---holes? Charlie Goodell would've confronted the president and walked out of the room."

Successful to the letter

Roger Goodell, in a letter to his father upon graduating from college in 1981, wrote his life goals were to become NFL commissioner and to make him proud.

Goodell flooded the league offices and every team with letters and resumes. The next April, he was summoned for an interview and got an internship. He has been in the NFL since, selected commissioner after Paul Tagliabue's 2006 retirement.

A copy of Charles' fateful S-3000 bill hangs in a frame in Roger's Park Avenue office.

Progressing from coffee boy to only the sixth commissioner in NFL history required political savvy and an awareness that maintaining connections is crucial.

Joseph P. Kennedy II shared an anecdote that proved Roger has preserved at least one of Charles' patrician political relationships: Ethel Kennedy, RFK's widow, has hosted Roger and his wife, former Fox News anchor Jane Skinner, in Hyannis Port, Mass.

"While some people in New England probably think Roger hasn't suffered enough for what he did to Tom Brady," Kennedy II wrote, "they have never spent five days in my younger sister Rory's old room, sharing a single bed with his wife and our two huge Newfoundland dogs and taking orders from my mother aboard her sailboat."

It all hasn't been a schmooze. Roger has faced stern governmental scrutiny.

The House Judiciary Committee scolded him in 2009, when he refused to admit a link between football and brain injuries. Rep. Linda Sanchez of California told him the NFL reminded her of the tobacco industry.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut has called for Roger's resignation over the NFL's botching of domestic-violence incidents, particularly former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice punching out his fiancee in 2014. Roger had appointed Mueller to investigate the league’s handling of the Rice case. Mueller’s finding absolved the league or Roger of major wrongdoing.

"I saw a lot of Charlie in Roger early on," Smith said. "It's been tougher on Roger ever since the Ray Rice explosion, which a lot of commentators thought Roger did not handle well in terms of public communication."

A comparison of Goodell leadership styles is complicated, their jobs so inherently different. Roger mused in a 2010 New York Times article that he couldn't imagine anyone would try to juxtapose him and his father.

Charles was a public servant. Roger, although it can be argued the NFL is comprised of 32 public trusts, oversees a private business owned by billionaires.

Charles awarded pardons and backed incarceration reforms. Roger is known as the heavy-handed law-and-order commissioner.

Charles challenged authority, even if it might cost him his career. Roger seems to safeguard authority at any cost.

The NFL's constitution is a collectively bargained contract in which labor forfeits freedoms for the chance to work. Roger's mantra is to "protect the shield," the league's corporate symbol. He has been known to rush to judgment. He destroyed evidence from the Patriots' 2007 videotaping scandal because, it was "the right thing to do," he said at the time.

When Agnew called Charles a "son of a bitch," the reference was direct.

When Trump called protesting NFL players "sons of bitches," Roger was mindful some of his tycoon bosses agreed with the president. Public records showed NFL owners contributed nearly $8 million to Trump's inaugural committee.

"I see a lot of his father's qualities in him as a human being," Smith said. "But in the last few years, it's been tougher for his father's finer qualities to serve him well because it would have required him basically to take on the brass of the NFL.

"Maybe he learned another lesson from his father's demise, and he's developed some survival instincts."

Mitrovich expressed disappointment over Roger's relative silence on Colin Kaepernick, the first NFL player to take a knee during the national anthem to raise awareness about racial oppression and police shootings of unarmed black men.

No team offered Kaepernick so much as a tryout in 2017. Goodell reiterated last week that personnel decisions are up to individual teams.

"If it were Charlie, there wouldn't be silence," said Mitrovich, a San Diego civic leader and chairman of the stadium authority that facilitated Petco Park. "He would've expressed his anger that this man, Colin Kaepernick, because he took a knee during the national anthem, is ostracized from the entire National Football League.

"Being faithful to your father's memory, being faithful to his extraordinary courage, his willingness to stand up for what he believed in even though there was a possibility he would lose everything – because lose everything he did – he still would have done it."

Several passages in "Political Prisoners in America" provide insight into the value Charles saw in dissent and demonstrations and why he believed protecting political expression was important.

"Roger is a good person," Mitrovich said, "but I don't know what happens to somebody when you're getting paid $40 million a year."

Like his father, Roger Goodell has been the subject of derision. (Getty Images)

The times have changed.

In 1970, how often would commissioners Bowie Kuhn, J. Walter Kennedy or Clarence Campbell be recognized walking down a city street?

Roger Goodell in 2018 is a celebrity, more famous than his father ever was. As of Friday, you could purchase Roger's autograph on a Sports Illustrated cover – he was rated No. 1 for "The Power Issue" in 2013, shown sitting atop the "Throne of Games" – for $85 at Amazon.com.

NFL growth has mushroomed under Roger's watch.

The Buffalo Bills, one of the least-valuable franchises, sold for a record $1.4 billion three years ago. The Carolina Panthers are on the market now; at least $2 billion is the expected price tag.

Would the NFL have swelled so much had the owners hired their longtime outside counsel, Gregg Levy? He was their other commissioner candidate. The owners voted five times to reach the required two-thirds majority on Roger.

Roger has been a winner. Charles was a singular force, yet his final campaign was a blistering defeat.

"By about 1972, there really was no sense that Charlie had a legacy in the near-term that anyone enshrined," Smith said. "Then it was really a question of, over the years, picking up the pieces later and hoping historians or journalists would pay much attention, and they didn't.

"But the end of his career in the Senate was a moment when I found myself a hero, a man who inspired all the people associated with him at that time, and who never feared to do the right thing despite the political consequences.

"He was just a rare, rare breed in the political cosmos."

Story topics: / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / /

There are no comments - be the first to comment