The United States of America has trudged through history under the guidance of 43 men who have served as its President. Had they been empowered with managing the National Football League, how would they have run it?
Happy Presidents' Day/Washington's Birthday/Washington and Jefferson Day, everybody.
Today is a unique holiday, in that we don't really agree on what we're observing. Is it Washington's Birthday? Are we acknowledging the efforts of every President in leading us in our fated march toward Providence (the idea, not any of the cities named such)? Is it just cause we need a day off after Valentine's Day? Yes.
For me, though, I reflect on the notion of America, its leaders, and how they would have run the noble institution of the National Football League. Founded, much like America, in the blood and lives of its forebears, the NFL now dominates the sporting landscape much like America and the world itself. How then, had the Constitution enabled the Presidency with the power to run our most cherished sporting league (an obvious mistake I hold against Thomas Jefferson to this day), would our 43 Presidents have managed the NFL?
Probably would have just passed the duties on to Edmund Randolph. He was too busy, you know, beating off superior armies to start the country and all. No big whoop.
Adams was a pretty big asshole despite being impressively intelligent and capable. The XYZ Affair was actually a big deal back in the day, despite it being the modus operandi for the way we operate today. Anonymous would have had a field day with that stuff. So pretty much, John Adams is Roger Goodell. Yuck.
Jefferson was either the most selfless, utopian thinker among our Founding Fathers or a naive, head-in-the-sand optimist who foolishly pursued a path of righteousness that accounted little to protecting ourselves from, well, ourselves. Jefferson would have changed the NFL rulebook to consist entirely of just three rules:
- All men must, yeomen at heart, brothers in ƒpirit, must accord to Divine ƒportsmanship for the purpose of interpersonal development. Should any ƒporting commitment be made without the will of the collective virtue, a flag shall be thrown uponst the ground, and five yards shall be applied in the derogatory to those found to have violated said ƒpirit.
- The rights of the individual, and theretofore in the collective the rights of the team, must never be abridged to serve the federal League. In so keeping, the NFL will never curtail the ability of any team or any player of doing whatsoever they choose at any time. Except violating the yeoman ƒpirit. That is, under God, a no go.
- All men have a right to be duly informed and so capable of executing the mission of their own fates. Thus, the NFL will be held by nary a soul yet managed by all. So really, these rules aren't rules since I am not in charge of anything. Oh, and I get to buy New Orleans on the cheap. Huzzah.
Jefferson was the first, of many, hipster Presidents. Way to go Tommy.
Madison was probably the best President we ever had. Envisioning the NFL under Madison is kind of impossible because it would have been too good for its time. If we ever get the time travel kinks worked out, James Madison should be the first guy we bring to the present. He'd get everything in tip-top shape in a year or so.
Our fist hippie President, Monroe wasn't up for big moments. He just kinda wanted to ride the waves of time. Hell, the Monroe Doctrine wasn't even all that notable until the Roosevelt Corollary made it into a more workable doctrine. Monroe would've just called for an Era of Good Feelings Part II.
"Hey, you guys should, like, stop conduct that's so, uh, unsportsmanlike. I mean, you guys are already sportsmen. So be more sportsmanlike. I mean, yeah."
John Quincy "Quizzy" Adams
Quizzy's probably the most underrated President in history. A master diplomat, his presidency was tarnished by the original Corrupt Bargain. Could've done some cool things for the NFL, but people would've hated him for putting his dad in the NFL Hall of Fame. Plus, had tv existed, wouldn't have been able to escape his family's incapability of not looking like a complete asshole:
Smile, jerky pants.
Jackson was our first crazy President. Instead of Jackson for NFL Commissioner, Spencer Hall convinced me he should be President of the NCAA. For life. And a couple dozen years thereafter. Seriously though, Jackson was crazy.
Martin Van Buren
Van Buren was a very good politician. He was also a very bad President. Van Buren oversaw the collapse of the economy, the Trail of Tears, the Pork and Beans War, and denied Texas admission to the US. The Whigs called him Martin Van Ruin. The Whigs...
Martin Van Buren would have been more like David Stern. Instead of focusing on the things that actually matter or improve the game, he would have required all injured players to wear a tie knotted four in hand. All cheerleaders would have to be avowed virgins to join the squad. Van Buren was a big ol waste of time.
William Henry Harrison
Harrison is our nation's reminder that being a badass in general and defending the nation in our wars doesn't always make out well. Harrison was a phenomenal military leader, and had that old school 19th century "iron and grit" countenance. Of course, if you're going to give your inauguration speech in cold as hell DC in 1841, wear a hat. And a coat. And don't ride on horseback when you have a coach available. Or, as Harrison did, you could do that and die a month later.
Harrison would have come up with some plan for players to give themselves concussions every month to "toughen up the body and mind." In demonstrating how the plan would work, he would have jumped head first into Pennsylvania Ave. and killed himself. Skip Bayless would have called him a "fearless warrior, and the embodiment of what football really is."
Tyler was our nation's "good job, good effort" President. Had Harrison not been such an old dummy, Tyler would likely have never served as our country's executive. So while people give him a hard time, he was overwhelmed by the position. Look, we never elected him, so it's hard to spite him.
Tyler would be a rare commissioner who just reiterates rules that already exist.
"That's why I'm proposing a radical change in the way we play football. Starting this season, both the offense and the defense on the field of play will be limited to just 11 players per side. Should any player on the offense move before the ball is snapped, I am proposing they be penalized five yards."
"Sir, those all are already rules."
"NO, SIR, I AM THE FOOTBALL PRESIDENT NOW. YOU WILL FOLLOW MY ORDERS."
No problem there, Johnny first names.
Polk thankfully gave us a break from the Whigs reign in the mid-19th century. Not only that, but he was actually a damn good President. Polk promised to serve just four years, centered around a four-pronged policy approach. He then served four years and achieved all four of his policy ends.
Polk would be way too direct for the NFL. We still require a bit of enigmatic disguise in our leadership, and the rules themselves are way too subjective. Polk would have delineated pass interference into 65 specific instances where it could be applied and then resigned as commissioner, comfortable with his legacy. We'd still be crying about the Rams' away schedule.
Oh damnit, the Whigs again. Either this guy is going to screw everything up or die really quickly. I know that while we have...what? He's already dead? Of what? EXPLOSIVE DIARRHEA? Why do we keep electing these guys? Oh, that's right. We're still in that "Guy Was Really Good In the Army, So Make Him President" mode.
Taylor would have been named Commissioner at the Combine and would be in the ground by the Draft. Haha, he died fast.
Sign no. 1 you're not going to be a good President: When you're the Vice President, the President dies and every member of his cabinet IMMEDIATELY offers their resignations. Fillmore's tenure revolved around territorial disputes: Texas, New Mexico, Utah, California... so pretty much fixing nothing, and just kind of dealing with angry mapmakers.
Fillmore would have spent his entire commissionate on the boundaries of the city of Los Angeles and how that might affect a new NFL franchise.
Pierce reminded us that being of nice, friendly, sane personality is generally not a good character for a head of state. You have to have a pretty insane ego to believe you deserve to be President of the United States. As such, Pierce really didn't want to do it. When he finally did agree to, he and his family were in a train accident in which their lone surviving child died. His wife blamed it on God punishing him for agreeing to be President. Talk about an awkward anniversary dinner...
Every NFL player would have loved to have had Franklin Pierce as commissioner. Everyone else would have hated him for doing nothing except being a nice guy. Pierce would have forced every team to hold a party and invite their fan base every Friday night. On the front of concussions and head trauma, Pierce would send every player flowers to remind them that they "are held in high regard."
With the creation of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, the U.S. was on the way toward Civil War. Buchanan was largely charged with figuring out how to deal with the abolitionist absolutists and the economic (and cultural) dependency on slavery in the South. Buchanan tried to play piecemeal at every step. Suffice to say, this did not work at all. At all.
Buchanan would have been the most half-ass commissioner ever. "Well um...I think that we should probably get stronger helmets. Unless you don't want to, but then you shouldn't tackle as hard. Unless you need to. But then you should be really really careful. Ok, football solved."
You've probably heard of this guy. He probably would have made a good commissioner. Plus, Lincoln and John F. Kennedy were the same person or something.
Andrew Johnson was supposed to be assassinated the same night as Lincoln, but his assassinate got too drunk and passed out before. History has a way of doin stuff like that. The main problem was the Johnson was a terribly racist executive at a time when Reconstruction offered to pathway to reducing the nationalism of racism at the time. You, sir, get an F-.
Johnson would have named every football Sunday "Jason Sehorn Day." We would have stopped watching football until Grover Cleveland took over. And unlike Lincoln, in the Andrew Johnson movie, he would totally be played by Tommy Lee Jones:
Ulysses S. Grant
Grant was a pioneer, in the bad way. He was arguably the first to ensure the American Presidency would at all times be beset by scandals. He did so by ensuring that everyone he communed with was corrupt as politically expedient as possible without actually benefiting from said corruption personally. The Whiskey Ring, Black Friday, Credit Mobilier, the Inferior Interior, Fort Sill...we'd use "Grantism" as a term to refer to Grantland if it wasn't so valuable in describing the extent of malfeasance under Grant's term as President.
THERE IS NO CORRUPTION WHATSOEVER IN THE NFL...IT IS A PROSPEROUS ENTERPRISE ON ITS OWN MERITS THAT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH ANY IMPROPRIETY AT ANY LEVEL...OH, GOODELL'S $22M BONUS? THE DOUBLING OF HIS SALARY? NORMAL COMPENSATION FOR PERFORMANCE AT SUCH A HIGH LEVEL. STOP LOOKING AT ME.
(NOTE: At the end of his life, Grant drank what was called "cocaine water." God bless these United States.)
Rutherford B. Hayes
Hayes' major charge (managing Reconstruction into a cohesive, federal conclusion) was largely marred from the highly contentious election of 1876 in which Hayes won by a single electoral vote but lost the popular vote by nearly a quarter of a million votes.
In a sense, Hayes IS Goodell. Instead of forging ahead as the commissioner of the main pro league of the dominant sport in the United States and the biggest sports league in the world, he should be focusing on international expansion and ensuring that cities like St. Louis who traditionally provide a fan base for a another sport see that carved away. Instead, he's dealing with science and facts and reality. Those are some stingy jerks.
James A. Garfield
We went through this weird period where middle initials mattered. That was dumb. So was Garfield's Presidency. He had but a few months before being assassinated to enact civic service reforms, largely relating to the post office.
If he were NFL Commissioner for a season, he would have made sure every player had an official email account and nfl.com. Way to go, Garfield.
Chester A. Arthur
Oh look, you have a middle initial too! You're awesome! Arthur was a strange President in that he restored the national faith in the office without doing all that much. Really, he was good by not being a corrupt screw up.
Chester A. Arthur is, in all likelihood, the next commissioner of the NFL. Goodell has engineered such derision from so many corners, there's a good chance his successor will be seen as a success simply by not being as bad.
The Grass is Greener President. Cleveland came in, built on Arthur's Presidency and ensured the rot of corruption would be swept out and committed to a reinvigoration of American civic and economic principles that would guide the USA into the 20th century. In his first term, he was largely successful. So we kicked him out and elected Benjamin frigging Harrison.
Harrison was, again, a good person who was overwhelmed by the magnitude of the executive. He tried to advance civil rights. He failed. He tried to decentralize our currency. He failed. He tried to adjust our budget, given the overwhelming surplus. He failed.
We like good people, but we needed someone who could get stuff done...oh, I know somebody who can help this NFL!
This is easily my favorite moment in American history. We obviously had no clue what we were doing or what we actually wanted. We re-elected the guy who lost last time to replace the good guy who we couldn't just agree with. What the hell is wrong with us?
The currency issues had come to a head, we addressed the budget. Cleveland was the anti-Harrison: he got things done. I hope that one day the NFL gets both of these Presidents in a single commissioner. Someone whose heart is in the right place with someone who knows how to translate that into action...wait, screw that. Let's put that in the Presidency and get a commissioner as good later.
McKinley was the last President to have served in the Civil War. It was a symbolic shift from the wounds that tore us apart to the remodeling of our house that left us with a better foundation that what we had before. America was in ascension. McKinley's job was to usher us into a new era of wonder. He did his job fairly well. So we killed him. We seem to have a specific skill in that area...
McKinley spent the majority of his focus on foreign relations with the growing concern over Spanish colonization of Cuba. McKinley would be the NFL Commissioner to see a team in London, Mexico City, Honolulu and Havana. And NFL games would immediately be a ton more fun to travel to.
Look, Roosevelt may not have been the best President (though damn close). But he was easily the coolest.
In March 1909, shortly after the end of his presidency, Roosevelt left New York for a safari in east and central Africa.
While Roosevelt was campaigning in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on October 14, 1912, a saloonkeeper named John Schrank shot him, but the bullet lodged in his chest only after penetrating his steel eyeglass case and passing through a thick (50 pages) single-folded copy of the speech he was carrying in his jacket.Roosevelt, as an experienced hunter and anatomist, correctly concluded that since he was not coughing blood, the bullet had not completely penetrated the chest wall to his lung, and so declined suggestions he go to the hospital immediately. Instead, he delivered his scheduled speech with blood seeping into his shirt. He spoke for 90 minutes. His opening comments to the gathered crowd were, "Ladies and gentlemen, I don't know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot; but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose." Afterwards, probes and x-ray showed that the bullet had traversed three inches (76 mm) of tissue and lodged in Roosevelt's chest muscle but did not penetrate the pleura, and it would be more dangerous to attempt to remove the bullet than to leave it in place. Roosevelt carried it with him for the rest of his life.
The weird thing is...we owe everything about football to Teddy Roosevelt. He was the first commissioner. I cannot describe my love of Teddy Roosevelt appropriately.
William Howard Taft
Taft gets a bad rap for his presidency, largely on the back of the conglomeration that took place in the business community during his tenure. Plus, he was really, really fat. Truth was, he was a very, very smart man (evidenced by his impressive term as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court) who oversaw an exploding economy.
Taft is pretty much Pete Rozelle. Burgeoning base of operations, closed business model - hardly any issues here.
Wilson's navigation of World War I and reconstruction of the financial system often put him in the top 10 of all Presidents of all time.
In reality, the NFL needs a Woodrow Wilson right now. The remnants of the effects football puts on the body and mind threaten the underpinnings of the league; a Wilsonesque leader would navigate this era and put it on a better foundation moving forward.
Warren G. Harding
But we certainly don't need a Harding...see, the thing about being President is, you kind of have to get everything right. You can do a great job on the economy, on civil aspects, on foreign policy...and still fail on management. Harding did. Teapot Dome, the Justice Department, Jess Smith, the Shipping Board...any of those would have made the modern news media pass out. It was the opening chapter of the Roaring 20s and Prohibition...you couldn't have really won here.
There was too much money and too much power sharing. Harding would have trouble managing an exploding NFL with record revenues and power brokers along the lines of Jerry Jones and Dan Snyder. But boy oh boy would he keep a lid on that mouthy Tim Tebow!
Cool Cool Cal was the embodiment of the modern conservative ideal. Lower taxes, smaller government...but no wars! EVERYTHING WAS FRICKING GREAT (as long as you ignore the stagnant lower class and the societal ignorance of Prohibition as law - other than that, good times).
Cal would have been perfect for the early 90s. The Cowboys are doing what? Who cares. Good times on the field. Enjoy the age, friends. It comes crashing down soon...
Hoover once said:
We in America today are nearer to the final triumph over poverty than ever before in the history of any land.
A few months later, we suffered the Crash of '29 and welcomed the Great Depression. Attaboy, Hoover.
Hoover would tell us there's nothing to worry about in terms of concussions or the long-term effects of football. "We are nearer to the safest football than ever before in the history of any land." And then we'd get the great Footsplosion of 2014. Hoover had the foresight of a mole.
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Aw damnit, now we're getting into Presidents who evoke modern sensitivity. Look, FDR pulled us out of the Great Depression and saw us through WWII. You can poop the scoop if you want, but I'm cool with that.
FDR was a bit like Tagliabue - setting the stage for the dominance. And now we get into the tough stuff...let's be nice.
Harry S. Truman
Truman was a fine president, but he oversaw the opening of the Soviet threat. As commissioner, he would have had to deal with Samoan spies who threatened to bomb (read: horse collar tackle) other players into oblivion. Can't tolerate that ish.
Dwight D. Eisenhower
Supreme Allied Commander? Meh. Call me when you actually do something. Eisenhower almost singlehandedly built our highway system. As NFL commissioner, he would have built airports next to NFL stadiums just to facilitate travel. And we still wouldn't give him the credit for being as awesome as he was.
John F. Kennedy
Um...as commissioner, would have just done what the Pope told him?
Lyndon B. Johnson
The last of the second era of middle initial Presidents, would've totally belittled you, your family, NFL players, their families and anyone else in his way. The NFL would be better off for it, and we'd all hate him.
As NFL Commissioner, Ford would have pledged to give out a turkey sandwich to every ticketholder of every NFL game. Why? Because he was Gerald Fricking Ford.
Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama
Oh, you thought I was going there? Hell no. Here's a picture of them after watching the Rams beat the Niners:
Yeah, that made everyone happy.
Look, without getting too political (and this took me WAAAAAAAAAAAY longer than I expected), America's Presidents have a strange, interesting, all-too-important history.
So on this President's Day, here's to them...but moreso, here's to the NFL.