NFL Commissioner Takes a Pounding

Professional football is, far and away, the most popular sport in the U.S., with 35 percent of Americans telling the Harris Poll last year the National Football League is their favorite sport – more than double anything else, including baseball and college football.

Many have wondered whether the endless, messy disciplinary battle over allegedly underinflated footballs – which took a new twist Thursday with Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s four-game Deflategate suspension getting thrown out by a judge – might also deflate Americans' love of the NFL.

What an unscientific poll Thursday at Quincy Market suggests: Whether they're Patriots fans or non-Patriots fans, football fans seem to continue to love the NFL. Commissioner Roger Goodell, however? Not so much.

"He did terribly," said Karissa Manning of Dorchester. "I think Roger Goodell didn't handle the case very well at all."

"Roger Goodell handled it very unfairly," agreed fellow Bostonian Darling Washington.

Lends Laurent of Brockton said after Goodell's getting slammed by Judge Richard Berman for a "fundamentally unfair" disciplinary arbitration process, "It’s going to be tough. They'll probably need a new commissioner."

It's important to note, it's not just Pats fans, but also Pats haters who feel that way.

"He's got mud on his face," Eagles fan Gina Battaglini of Philadelphia said. "I don't know what he was doing, what he was trying to do, to be honest with you."

"There was no real evidence," said Luciano Cavaliere of Ottawa, who roots for the Dallas Cowboys. "I think Goodell dropped the ball on this one."

And Bills backer Pam Brown of Buffalo said her verdict is: "They blew it way out of proportion, the whole thing."

Dallas Cantlin, a Pats fan from Worcester and student at Northeastern University, wondered if Goodell had been trying to run up the score on Brady to come back from several recent disciplinary-case fumbles.

"He's [done] pretty poor so far with all his missteps, with the Ray Rice case and the Adrian Peterson case," said Cantlin, referring to punishments for wife-beating and child-whipping that got overturned. "I feel like this was a way where he was trying to gain back some trust by going hard on the Patriots, a team that most people really don't like."

Of course, the only opinions that really matter are those of the 32 NFL team owners, and what is reported over and over is that most owners – especially the most influential owners of mega-franchises like the Cowboys, Giants, and Steelers – are very happy with Goodell and how much money he's helping them all make.

But if there’s widespread fan agreement that the commission has a major black eye, does that mean trouble in paradise for the NFL and the $7.3 billion a year it now grosses?

"The NFL is a great league, and this is not going to put a dent in the NFL," Cavaliere said.

No one necn interviewed could imagine anyone deciding to watch less football because they're upset with Goodell or the NFL's disciplinary processes, and several said the drama only makes the Patriots 2015 season more interesting to watch as they seek to validate and defend their Super Bowl championship.

"The league, overall, I think is fine," Cantlin said. "The popularity is growing. Maybe not the central office or the headquarters. But overall, the league – I think people are still happy with it."

With videographer Brian Butler

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