The feud started back in August when Goodell's office imposed a six-game suspension on Cowboys star running back Ezekiel Elliot for violating the league's personal conduct policy over allegations including domestic violence, an issue the NFL has tried to clamp down on over the past few seasons following the league's initial mishandling of a 2014 incident involving Ray Rice.
Back then, after receiving wide criticism over Rice's initial two-game suspension, which the public saw as a slap on the wrist for such a serious matter, Goodell made this promise:
"My disciplinary decision led the public to question our sincerity, our commitment, and whether we understood the toll that domestic violence inflicts on so many families. I take responsibility both for the decision and for ensuring that our actions in the future properly reflect our values. I didn't get it right. Simply put, we have to do better. And we will."
The cloud of Elliot's suspension, which officially began in week 10 after a series of appeals by the NFL Players Association, has dogged the Cowboys organization all season. Its implementation was a tipping point for Jones that prompted him to launch a series of attacks on Goodell's reputation and status as commissioner.
Did Goodell Overplay His Hand?
According to a September survey by Remington Research Group, only 12 percent of respondents held a favorable opinion of Roger Goodell. The commissioner has faced steady criticism by fans for his actions including the handling of Deflategate, maintaining player safety and inconsistent punishments issued to players for incidents ranging from drug use to domestic violence.
In April, I witnessed the disdain for Goodell in person at the NFL Draft in Philadelphia, where he was welcomed with passionate boos nearly every time he took the podium.
Despite his unpopularity among fans, the league's owners have largely held a favorable view of Goodell. The league earned $8 billion in 2010, According to NewsWeek compared to the $14 billion it's expected to haul in for 2017. Additionally, Goodell has set a goal of bringing in a whopping $25 billion annually by 2025.
Using Leverage to Push Back
The league's revenue growth during his tenure gives him plenty of leverage among owners--and Goodell is well aware. That is why he stood firm when his disciplinary decision was put to the test by an owner with a Texas-sized chip on his shoulder.
This public clash with Jones came at a pivotal time for Goodell. His contract is up for renewal after the 2018 season with a committee of six owners tasked with negotiating a new deal.
In an effort to stir the pot, Jones threatened to sue in order to give all 32 owners a chance to review the terms of any deal. In response, the NFL sent a letter to Jones accusing him of conduct detrimental to the league, which threatened Jones' own status in the league, and Jones swiftly walked back the idea of litigation against the league.
With this latest development, Goodell's job is not only safe, but he is positioned to earn up to about $200 million from 2019 to 2023 with a new deal, according to Bleacher Report. Furthermore, by standing up to Jones and rallying support from other owners, Goodell showed the backbone and leadership that he's been accused of lacking in the past. He demonstrated to the league and its fans that he is in control and that he's not backing down to unwarranted accusations.
For business leaders, Goodell's handling of this situation is a lesson in standing by your values and principals, even when they are challenged by a worthy foe. Had Goodell caved in on Jones' demands, it would have encouraged others in the league to lob criticism and legal threats the next time he made a controversial decision. By standing by his promise to treat domestic violence as a serious matter, Goodell earned credibility and respect, two assets necessary to be an effective leader.