Thirty years ago at the Landmark, a bar just off the campus of Washington & Jefferson College in southwestern Pennsylvania, tension occasionally simmered between townies and college kids. Sometimes it was racial. One evening a black student walked in, sat at a corner table and ordered a beer. At the bar was a white townie who'd had a lot to drink. He ordered the black kid to scram. The bartender, a 21-year-old W&J senior, stepped from the behind the bar and stood between the two men.
The townie opened his coat to reveal a revolver. "I want him out!" he said, putting his hand on the gun. "I don't care—I'll shoot you too!"
"He can stay," said Roger Goodell, the bartender. "He's allowed to have a drink."
Time stopped in the crowded bar. "Let's just go outside," Goodell said to the townie, and they did. Goodell walked the patron down the street and out of the Landmark for the night.
Tim Foil, one of the bar's owners, wasn't there that night but had seen such incidents before. "You never know," Foil said. "Guns, too much alcohol. Bad things happen sometimes."
Two years into his NFL commissionership, in 2008, Roger Goodell received a phone call from Cowboys defensive tackle Tank Johnson, whom Goodell had suspended for eight games the previous year for repeated gun violations. As a condition of his reinstatement, Johnson pledged not to own a firearm for the duration of his NFL career. But one night outside his mother's home in Mesa, Ariz., Johnson had startled two young men who were using long screwdrivers to break into his car, a vintage '71 Chevelle SS, and they ran away. Johnson decided he needed protection for himself and his family. So there he was in a gun store with a .40 caliber pistol in hand, ready to buy it, when he figured he'd better call Goodell and explain the situation. Certainly the commissioner would understand.
"Tank," Goodell said. "Don't do it. Walk out of the store."
Angry, Johnson put the weapon down and walked out, remaining on the phone with Goodell. "I was so pissed off," Johnson says now. "When I got outside, he said, 'If you had a gun last night, what happens? If you use the gun, maybe you're in jail. Maybe you get shot, maybe your mother does. But you're out of football.' So I don't get the gun, and I'm pissed."