Phil Goldsmith

is a former managing director of Philadelphia

It's time for the National Football League's $44.2 million-a-year Roger Goodell to earn his keep as commissioner.

That's not to say Goodell hasn't done a good job, but up to now it's been as difficult as shooting fish in a barrel. Goodell, after all, inherited a well-oiled machine when he took over as the league's chief executive officer in 2006. And he and the league benefit handsomely from being a so-called nonprofit organization that is immune from antitrust actions, thanks to Congress. And they have been the beneficiaries of huge television contracts from networks starving for live content.

But Goodell now has much bigger fish to fry, given two major developments in recent weeks. First was the coming out of college all-American Michael Sam, who will most likely be the first openly gay NFL player. The other was the release of the Wells report, which unveiled in excruciating detail the bullying tactics in the Miami Dolphins' locker room, spearheaded by lineman Richie Incognito.

For anyone who thinks the tit-for-tat text messages between Incognito and his teammate Jonathan Martin were just boys being boys, read the 144-page report, not simply the media coverage ( The media can't do justice to the report because no self-respecting family newspaper is going to print the actual text messages that Incognito sent to Martin. Disgusting doesn't begin to describe them.

Ted Wells firmly concludes that Incognito was the ringleader who taunted not only Martin, but also a team trainer and another player - acts that constituted workplace harassment.

Although Wells' comprehensive report clearly flags Incognito as the aggressor and encourages "the creation of new workplace conduct rules," his conclusion is somewhat worrisome because he acknowledges that the NFL is not an "ordinary workplace." "Professional football is a rough, contact sport played by men of exceptional size, speed, strength, and application," he writes.

By acknowledging that the NFL locker room is not an "ordinary workplace," he may have created a huge hole for apologists of such conduct to ramble through.

This is where the richly paid Goodell needs to earn his keep. He needs to plug that hole with clarity, forcefulness, and promptness. The NFL has already been late to the party in ignoring, if not denying, the dangers of concussions to its players - or its assets, as some owners might call them.

Nor is it enough to use the likelihood of a gay man playing in the NFL as an excuse to impose new rules. Antibullying and harassment rules are not simply to protect people of different genders and sexual orientations. They are there to protect people who want to march to their own drummer.

Although the 6-foot-5 Martin may be of "exceptionable size, speed, and strength," he may still have the emotional sensitivities and insecurities of any young man, regardless of size. Indeed, it is safe to say that Incognito and other members of his bullying posse have their own insecurities that manifested themselves in their harassment of others.

It won't be an easy challenge for Goodell and the 32 team owners to address. You can't legislate how people feel or think about each other. But you can legislate their actions. Indeed, the league has already cracked down on such things as taunting on the field; no doubt they can find a way to crack down in the locker room and on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media.

It will be a delicate balancing act for Goodell and his brain trust. After all, what to one man is bullying can be viewed by the other man as just joking around. It's not unlike the difference between a defensive back yelling he made a great play and the receiver screaming that he was the victim of pass interference. On the playing field, the NFL has found a way to walk the tightrope while taking the league's popularity to greater heights.

Now it needs to find the right balance off the field as well. It won't be easy or without controversy. But that's presumably why Goodell gets paid the big bucks.