Like many sports stories, this one is about fathers and sons. Before Roger Goodell was National Football League commissioner—before fans and pundits alike began calling for his ouster in the wake of the ongoing Ray Rice domestic-violence scandal; before members of Congress began sending angry letters and demanding answers—Goodell was an 11-year-old boy, watching the Nixon White House crush his dad’s political career.
The year was 1970. Charles E. Goodell, then a moderate Republican senator from New York, was running for reelection. The previous summer, he had sponsored a high-profile bill that would have ended funding for the Vietnam War. He subsequently led a Washington march against the war—right down Pennsylvania Avenue, alongside Jane Fonda, arm-in-arm with Coretta Scott King. Before going to the New York Times, Daniel Ellsberg even asked Goodell to leak the Pentagon Papers.
Unsurprisingly, President Nixon was furious. He ordered his staff to give the senator a “going over,” turning the Republican Party against the incumbent candidate in favor of a conservative challenger. Meanwhile, Vice President Spiro Agnew savaged Goodell’s GOP bona fides in a series of speeches.
In response, Goodell’s campaign deployed the candidate’s five sons, including Roger, on busy Manhattan street corners, where they would stump for their dad. I’m Senator Goodell’s son. Please vote for my father. No luck: The elder Goodell split the liberal vote with his Democratic opponent, allowing third candidate and Nixon loyalist James Buckley to win the election.