How NFL czar Roger Goodell tried to stop HBO's 'Ballers'

By Alex Butler
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell walks the sidelines before Super Bowl 50 at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California on February 7, 2016. Photo by Brian Kersey/UPI
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell walks the sidelines before Super Bowl 50 at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California on February 7, 2016. Photo by Brian Kersey/UPI | License Photo

NEW YORK, July 16 (UPI) -- NFL commissioner Roger Goodell needs all of the good publicity he can get following turbulent years full of domestic violence case mishandlings and DeflateGate scandals.

So when HBO's 'Ballers' came to the forefront, he wasn't the show's biggest fan.


In fact, he even phoned the show's executive producer, Mark Walberg, saying that he didn't want any additional player cameos. 'Ballers' profiles the lives of several fictional NFL players, dealing with real-life league themes such as drug addiction, sex, financial recklessness, and more.

"The first season of the show, the only call that I was getting was from guys like Roger Goodell saying 'you can't do this,' and various owners in the league," Wahlberg said Friday on ESPN's 'Mike & Mike.' "And we're saying is it's actually a good thing for the league and for the players because hopefully you get the word out there with the crazy stuff and the financial side of it, we'll hopefully get these guys to realize they gotta be more careful with what they do with their money."


Season one featured cameos from Antonio Brown, Terrell Suggs, DeSean Jackson, Steven Jackson, and more. Season two is expected to have appearances from Suggs, Jarvis Landry, Ndamukong Suh, New England Patriots players, and others. Season two debuts at 10 p.m. Sunday.

"I don't think 'Ballers' is satirizing the world of sports," Rob Corddry, who plays financial advisor Joe Krutel on the show, told Forbes. "It is an extra-ordinary look at the real world of football and sports management. It's a hard show to categorize. It almost feels like a half-hour drama. It's not a dramedy either. But it's funny. I am one of the more comic relief characters, and yet I could count on one hand the amount of bits that I'm doing. It's mostly funny lines here or there and some improv, but more than any other thing I find myself doing. My character in 'Ballers' doesn't know he's in a comedy."

In 2004, the Los Angeles Times reported that Goodell, then the NFL's executive vice president and chief operating officer, was one of several league executives to complain about ESPN's 'Playmakers.


The network canceled the show that same year. At that time, ESPN vice president Mark Shapiro told the Times: "if the NFL had its way, ESPN would have canceled 'Playmakers' after the first episode." The highly-popular show featured many of the same issues profiled in 'Ballers.'

Last year, Vice Sports' Aaron Gordon wrote an article titled: "Playmakers, the show the NFL killed for being too real."

"Playmakers, which aired on ESPN in 2003, is a show remembered not for its acting or cinematography, but for its controversy. For 11 episodes, the show poked and prodded at the seedy underbelly of professional football, following the fictional Cougars in an unnamed city and unnamed pro league that bears an uncanny resemblance to everything and anything NFL," Gordon wrote.

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New York Times reporter Richard Sandomir wrote in 2004 about then NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue complaining about 'Playmakers' to Walt Disney Company chief officer Michael D. Eisner. Disney owns ESPN.


Despite the show never mentioning the NFL, ESPN stopped promoting it with commercials during Sunday night NFL broadcasts, following the discussions.

''It's our opinion that we're not in the business of antagonizing our partner, even though we've done it, and continued to carry it over the NFL.'s objections," Shapiro told the Times. "To bring it back would be rubbing it in our partner's face.''

'Playmakers' creator and executive producer John Eisendrath called the NFL "bullies."

''The NFL is entitled to its opinion,'' Eisendrath told the Times, ''but I think they're wrong, and I think they're bullies. They're a monopoly. I think it fell to ESPN to have the strength to stand up to the NFL's opinion. It's offensive to me that they would bully ESPN that way, so I'm most offended by the NFL's attitude, which is blatantly hypocritical considering some of the things that go on in the league, which far exceed anything I wrote about.''

According to the HBO website: 'Ballers' looks at the "lives of former and current football players, the show follows former superstar Spencer Strasmore as he gets his life on track in retirement while mentoring other current and former players through the daily grind of the business of football. Rob Corrdry, Omar Benson Miller, John David Washington, Donovan Carter, Troy Garity, Jazmyn Simon, and Arielle Kebbel also star."


Goodell made $180.5 million from 2006 through 2014, when his salary was disclosed.

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