Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Jed Bartlet To Replace Tagliabue As NFL Commissioner

This Sunday evening on NBC, Josiah “Jed” Bartlet will finish his service as President of the United States. Political observers have speculated about Bartlet’s next move after he exits The West Wing. That question has now been answered. NFL owners have selected President Bartlet to replace the retiring Paul Tagliabue as the league’s commissioner.

Bartlet will take over upon his predecessor’s exit in July. The President will assume the commissioner’s position under very similar circumstances as Tagliabue did in 1989. At that time, it was Tagliabue who replaced a long-time, respected leader (Pete Rozelle). Tagliabue also spent time as a powerful Washington figure – 24 years as an attorney - before taking the job in the NFL’s New York office. Unlike Bartlet, however, Tagliabue was not replaced by Jimmy Smits, who was then practicing law in L.A.

Bartlet’s selection is not surprising, given that the owners are primarily interested in the bottom line. The outgoing President certainly understands economics, having won a Nobel Prize in that area before entering politics. Bartlet’s honor was the reverse of Jimmy Carter, who became a Nobel laureate after his presidency. Like Carter, President Bartlet will strive to maintain peace – in this case, between owners and players.

An NFL insider expects a smooth transition from Tagliabue to Bartlet. The NFL dwarfs the popularity of other sports leagues, so significant changes are unlikely. Out of habit from the past eight years, President Bartlet does plan to deliver a State of the NFL Address every January. However, his comments will mostly focus on “how much we rock,” concluding the address with “Take that, Bud Selig and David Stern!” Hail To The Chief will not be played for Bartlet, as 31 owners would object to any apparent favoritism toward Kansas City. In terms of day-to-day activity within the league office, The NFL source expects the most significant change to be “more staffers walking briskly through the hallways while delivering witty repartee.”

As a Notre Dame alumnus, President Bartlet’s dream sports job would have been to coach the Fighting Irish football team. However, Charlie Weis is firmly entrenched in that position. Observers do expect Bartlet to bring a touch of the Golden Dome to the league office by appointing Regis Philbin as deputy commissioner. Players facing league discipline will get to plead their cases on the couch with Regis and Kelly Ripa.

Some observers feel that President Bartlet’s health issues could present a major concern. However, if anything, those vulnerabilities will only endear him to NFL fans. Bartlet has been battling multiple sclerosis throughout his presidency. He also survived a bullet wound during his first year in office. These obstacles have not kept him from performing his duties. To football fans, nothing is more admirable than a guy who plays through pain.

Bartlet does have one objective that Tagliabue was unable to fulfill: returning professional football to Los Angeles. The City of Angels has been without an NFL franchise since the Rams and Raiders skipped town after the 1994 season. Bartlet should be successful in placing a team in the nation’s #2 media market. He has consistently demonstrated his commitment to the Los Angeles area, spending most of his presidency on a soundstage in Burbank.

Yes, Jed Bartlet’s time in the Oval Office is about to end. However, the NFL’s new television contract ensures that one thing will not change: Sunday nights, he’ll still have a presence on NBC.