Inspirational and Inspiring Gifts

Goodell uses his story to inspire graduates

Published by Associated Press - Sunday, May 30, 2010

Roger Goodell sent 40 letters to the NFL office in New York City looking for a job in 1981. Forty rejections came back.

But more letters to NFL headquarters followed, until one day a weary league executive invited him to "stop by when you're in the neighborhood."

"I told him I was in the neighborhood," recalled Goodell, who then drove all night from Pittsburgh to New York City to apply for what was supposed to be a three-month internship.

Twenty-five years later, Goodell was appointed to his dream job: commissioner of the National Football League.

Goodell used his story to inspire the 2,390 graduates of the University of Massachusetts-Lowell on Saturday. Besides being commencement speaker, he and brothers Bill, Tim and Jeffrey accepted an honorary doctorate in the name of their late father, former U.S. Sen. Charles E. Goodell of New York.

New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft introduced Goodell, saying, "He's a poster child for the saying, 'Be nice to your interns - you may end up working for them.' "

During the commencement, Goodell told the graduates that the principles and procedures he uses to run the NFL were modeled on those of his father, who was one of the first members of the U.S. Congress to publicly oppose the war in Vietnam. That earned him a spot on Richard Nixon's "enemies list" and, according to his son, effectively ended his political career.

"He was a tremendous influence on me and my brothers," Goodell said. "The world needs to hear the story of my father, who encouraged us to speak up and do what is right."

Others receiving honorary degrees were author and historian Doris Kearns Goodwin and her husband, playwright, speechwriter and presidential adviser Richard Goodwin; educator and author Gloria Ladson-Billings; and physicist and novelist Alan P. Lightman.

Goodell said that it was OK to dream, but you also need to "create a vision, a plan that will take your dream to its destination."

He also outlined how he makes tough decisions, which recently included suspending star Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

"Get all the information," he said, "and then listen - especially to those you disagree with."