National Football League, President Donald Trump, Roger Goodell discussed on Chauncey's Great Outdoors
Life. Mark Leyva vich is the New York Times magazines chief national correspondent, he's the author of the number one New York Times bestselling book this town about the inner workings of Washington DC, but his new book is about an entirely or maybe not so entirely different subject to National Football League. The title big game the NFL and dangerous times. Mark Leibovich joins us. Now. Thank you for being with us. Mark. Thanks for having me Jammie. Good to be here. Why would someone a serious journalists such as yourself at a time when there is certainly no lack or dearth of things to cover in Washington. A town that you know, well dedicate so much time and energy to the subject of the National Football League. Well, you know, my bosses the times magazine wanted to know that too. They think they wish they were covering politics during all the time. But no, I I look I thought that I've always had an interest in empires and places that think that they're going to go on and prosper forever. And and it is amazing that the overlap you see when you're covering the swamp of Washington, and then you get into the National Football League. And you realize that a lot of it is is very similar. You have the same big egos. A lot of big money, this sort of club environment that prevails in DC that that is very much alive and well in football. So I sort of thought I could take a break from politics by jumping into football for a few years and really delving into the league. Now is obviously very naive to think that I could escape from politics one because league politics is very very fraught. But also, Donald Trump, politics it touches everything. So my world kind of collided last year. We're speaking with Mark Leibovich, the author of the new book big game, the NFL in dangerous types in it really is. A remarkable narrative, and that's just the narrative in the book. But the narrative now of the National Football League the preeminent professional sports league in North America. If we'd had this conversation, let's say four years ago. Everything seemed to be looking rosy for the NFL. There was the concussion issue. But in terms of it's popularity. It was on challenge. Tv ratings were still climbing environment in which all other ratings are declining. There was not this intersection with politics. It was pre- Ray rice. I guess that was default two thousand fourteen now here we are as the two thousand eighteen season gets underway in the league for all of its straits. Still seems I should say seems to be under siege. In a way. Like it has never been before. How did we get here? You know it. It is interesting part of it is just the time. I mean, there's sort of a siege mentality a divisive mentality. No matter where you look. But look I mean, it's also worth pointing out that the indicators of the league or are still pretty good. I mean their revenue growth is pretty strong their Carolina Panthers sold for two point two million billion dollars last year. Which was a very very high number for a franchise, though, think Jerry Richardson bought for maybe one hundred and seventy five million something like that FOX just through a ton of money at at at the league for Thursday night game. So there's a lot there. But which is why Roger Goodell still making a million dollars a year, or whatever he's still making a lot of money. Yeah. There's a level of resentment toward the league from a lot of different circles that you didn't see a while back when part of it's just market by market. I mean, Roger Goodell cannot go into New England. He cannot go into Oakland San Diego. We cannot go to Dallas you can go to Baltimore. I mean, there's just a lot of places that have been alienated from from the league office for many many years. But also look for a perspective of parents who are not letting their kids play football. I mean participation rates are down for years. The left has been suspicious of football, much more. So than the right and Donald Trump almost single-handedly has turned the NFL into this example of. How America has become to still politically correct and to soft. So you have you know, the the kneeling anthem protests thing is just really divided things in many many ways. And I don't think Roger Goodell or the people who own the league are very well equipped to deal with it. Because I don't think they know what they're dealing with speaking with Mark leave vich again about his new book big game the NFL dangerous times. And and that's an interesting point you make that they can't deal with it. Because for so long for many decades, the NFL specially under the leadership of Pete Roselle who came from the world communications, or as they called it back then public relations publicity. You know, always seem to have the answer. Why has the league struggled so mightily really for the last four years really since the Ray rice crisis to come up with the right answers to any of these issues. Well, I mean, Roger Goodell has had a knack for for really self inflicting a lot of damage under the league and also just turning molehills into big mountains. I mean Deflategate is sort of a classic example of that as you know, story that you could argue with a minor equipment violation that became sort of a two year story. Now, you could also argue that the two years story was riveting it was reality TV NFL style at its best. And you know, you look at it didn't involve domestic violence or or concussions or one of those unpleasant, topics. I mean, it was a really goofy story that a lot of people were really really passionate about. But look, I it's just, but he I think part of it. He would say, and Roger Goodell told me that he blames the times I mean, this is a social media driven phenomenon in many ways, it's also a very very divided time, politically, and people are really empowered by any number of different outlets to to be aggrieved over something and football has sort of become a vehicle for that. And I think that that it's look I mean, I think it's a time when you really do sense in the league a lack of confidence and Roger Goodell he's signed on for another five years at really really big money. You know, he doesn't have much to lose. Can you? Tell us about the reporting process for this book which spanned several years. It was tricky. I mean, yeah. I mean, I I am not a sports writer. I mean, I'm a political writer, I do not belong to this club. And I don't think I'll be invited anymore. Commissioners Christmas parties Christmas parties, but the Super Bowl party. I mean, I can went to a couple of those. And I think I probably never made it to one I've been in like thirty Super Bowls. I've never made it to the commissioners party. What am I missing anything? Not really look like any other. You'll do better or any number of places. Jeremy? No. I mean, my reporting processes risk dip in and out. I mean, I wanted to sort of cover a four year narrative in the league during what what seemed to be a very precarious period, and the NFL sort of has this allusion of permanence is going to be around forever that it's gonna be printing money forever. But yeah, yes, it is making a ton of money right now and their TV ratings are still even though it went down last year. It's extremely stout and extremely popular. But these things turn really really fast. And I think you know, one thing about the anthem protests last year, would it did reveal just how flat the little league is when things like this happen. There is no real confidence in the leadership, and even like a cohesiveness among the owners that that they can sort of keep this thing together. Mark you mentioned President Trump and how that caught everyone by surprise, especially in Washington. How would the world look different right now if President Trump and the NFL owners or at the time before he was President Donald Trump had been able to buy the Buffalo Bills. Well, he would say the Buffalo Bills will have would have would be looking for their fifth consecutive Super Bowl. And. They would be he would ensure that that everyone stands for the anthem tell on the line and there'd be someone else in the White House. Now, I don't know. I mean, look it's one of the great force in the road in history that if it had gone a different way, it's a thought exercise, you know, what if he had gotten the bills we'd have we'd have another president and the Buffalo Bills. Would you know, he he would be the league's he'll be the league's problem. I guess he was the league's problem anyway. But he'd be they'd be dealing with him. It was one of thirty two owners rather than the the heckler in the White House at this point. So yeah, but Donald Trump Donald Trump's been trying to get into this club for for four decades. I mean, he's made efforts repeatedly to try to buy into the league starting with Pete Rozelle. They wanted nothing to do with him. And that was true for years ago, when when he was going for the bills, and you know, I don't know what it says about the value system of our culture. But but the fact is the the White House has become the ultimate consolation prize. That's how coveted the club. The membership is how deep is the historical animus between Donald Trump in the NFL. Of course, we know the USFL is large part of that. But it goes beyond the USFL. I it does. I mean, look Donald Trump is someone that a lot of really rich people, especially people around New York, you know, have dealt with. I mean, Donald Trump is he has not been an invisible figure for for, you know, for many many years he's been to someone who's been around. I don't think a lot of people took him seriously. I think every single day. He you know, he is surprised, and I think a lot it was surprised that he is where he is today. But no, certainly the USFL and even within the USFL he he caught a lot of blame for actually that league folding because it was him that insisted that they go to the fall schedule to compete directly with the NFL and his goal in owning the New Jersey generals. Who was he was hoping for a merger with the NFL? That would result in him being an NFL owner, obviously, we all know what happened with the USO bell. And you know over the years he is just. Tried to buy a number of teams, and like so many things in Trump's mythology personal grievance grievance and sort of being in clubs or dominating clubs that would not have him as a member become sort of a an overriding narrative of everything he does. So if you look at some of the private businesses, he has gone after as president, whether it's Amazon owns the Washington Post, whether it's the National Football League, which wouldn't let him in. You know, even if you go to the Comcast merger because his is is. Animosity towards NBC. I mean, it goes one after another, and this is just sort of part of the same pattern. You used the word earlier in our interview to describe the NFL as an empire. Where are we? Now are the barbarians at the gates. Are we still is there still kind of a Pax Romana? What where do we stand? You know? It is interesting. I mean, there's certainly a lot more doom and a lot more nervousness within the league or not. I don't know if there's do mentally, but they're certainly nervousness. You do get a sense of precariousness. You know, and people are kind of scared about the world, they're kind of they're rolling into. But again, I mean, the indicators are still pretty strong, and I think we'll probably know a lot more after the next broadcast contracts are negotiated in the next couple of years. And also the next, you know, CBS the next collective bargaining agreement which comes up in. I think twenty twenty maybe twenty twenty one something like that. And yeah, I mean, I I do think one of the lessons from last year an NFL players did get a window into how powerful they can be if they decide to.