One of the NFL Draft traditions is Roger Goodell getting booed throughout his appearances on stage. The boos have become such a large tradition of the draft itself that during the 2020 virtual draft, Goodell even paused to give fans time to boo him virtually. While Goodell certainly deserves some credit for playing the role of the villain, why is the commissioner booed so heavily during the NFL Draft?
Roger Goodell Booed at Every NFL Draft Location
When the draft was held in Radio City Music Hall in New York for nearly a decade until 2014, some people might have believed the booing was exacerbated by the general misery and grumpiness of the New York Jets fans longing for a championship season. However, the crowd has strongly booed Goodell at every draft location since then, from Chicago to Philadelphia to Paradise, Nevada.
So, what’s the reason for this negative reaction from seemingly every fan base? At this point, it might be simply tradition. Fans know they should boo Goodell when he appears on the stage, so they do. However, there are several underlying issues behind the tradition, dating back a number of years.
Some people point to the player strike in 1987. When players refused to compete, the NFL turned to players from the Canadian Football League, the recently dissolved USFL, and players who had been cut in the preseason and were looking for another chance. This proved deeply unpopular on several levels, and with the commissioner ultimately being the face of the league, his office has dealt with the brunt of that frustration ever since.
Of course, the legendary Pete Rozelle was the commissioner in 1987, having guided the league for nearly 30 years through extraordinary challenges and growth that contributed to the juggernaut that is today’s NFL. In a sense, while the pain of the 1987 strike might linger in football fans’ DNA, Goodell certainly couldn’t be blamed.
That said, Goodell has drawn criticism for how he’s handled many thorny issues, including domestic violence, player safety, and cheating accusations.
Booing the Commissioner Is Not All That Common
The other element behind the ferocity of the booing at the NFL Draft is that there are limited opportunities to tell Goodell to his face if you feel he’s doing a bad job. The commissioner rarely engages with large groups of fans, nor does he frequently speak in public.
Given the stakes of the NFL season, its teams, and its players in the eyes of its fandom, any opportunity to vent frustrations to the guy in charge is, apparently, time well spent.
That goes for NFL ownership in general. Yes, they might be seen on the field, but often in their home stadium, during a game, when a fan’s passion for their team is at its peak. Rarely do fans get a chance to directly show their frustration to NFL ownership. As the face of that ownership, Goodell gets the heat on the first night of the draft.
Goodell is not the only commissioner who is booed during the draft. Hockey fans do it at the NHL Draft, and NBA fans certainly used to let David Stern know about their concerns.