As he took the podium after the Super Bowl to crown the New England Patriots, Roger Goodell was booed resoundingly. Assuming the majority of the fans who stuck around to witness the crowning were Patriots fans, and in light of their distaste for the still ongoing "Deflategate" investigation, the boos were perhaps predictable.

That said, the growing distaste — and perhaps more alarmingly the growing distrust — of the NFL's commissioner seems to have reached a high.

"As an organization, and as an individual, it's been a tough year," Goodell said during his pre-Super Bowl news conference. Goodell’s gross understatement in characterizing the year as "tough" strikes an all-too-familiar apathetic tone. Over the last 12 months, the league has battled criticism for its handling of a variety of issues. From its soft and mishandled stance on domestic violence, to its reactionary response to concussions; from its non-stance on the name "Redskins", to a reenergized conversation about its illogical and mocking tax-exempt status — the NFL had one of its worst years in its 92-year history.


According to tax returns submitted by the league, Goodell made roughly $105 million from 2008 to 2012, which included $44.2 million in 2012. His salary in 2012 was a 50 percent jump from his 2011 salary. The reason we know these numbers is the result of the aforementioned tax-exempt, nonprofit status bestowed upon the league by Congress in 1942. Yet it was that same Congress that put the NFL in its cross hairs back in September following the league's bungling of the Ray Rice domestic violence case. Congress began holding hearings and some lawmakers called for Goodell to resign or be fired. The White House even weighed in on several of the NFL’s issues, remarking recently that the league "needs to get a handle" on the issue of domestic violence.

Generally, the growing distrust of Goodell is not about how much money he makes. The chief executive of a $10.5 billion annual enterprise should be well-compensated. The distrust is the result of a lack of transparency on the part of the league. It's the result of the league's propensity to do the right thing retroactively. It's Goodell's arrogance and failure to recognize that a billion-dollar enterprise, the most popular professional sports league in the United States, has a much greater obligation than simply a revenue bottom line.

Congress, which has a history of placating the NFL, seemed emboldened to deliver this message before the new year. At the very least, members of Congress like then-Sen. Tom CoburnThomas (Tom) Allen CoburnThe Hill's Morning Report — Presented by PhRMA — Worries grow about political violence as midterms approach President Trump’s war on federal waste American patients face too many hurdles in regard to health-care access MORE (R-Okla.) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) were outwardly skeptical about the NFL's antitrust privileges. The exemptions that Washington has historically granted the NFL carry an inherent approval, and condoning, of the policy decisions (or indecisions) made by Goodell. The decision by Congress to reexamine those exemptions is entirely appropriate after a year of inadequate leadership from the NFL's league office.

And yet, with the Super Bowl bringing a close to the 2014 season, the NFL seems to be weathering the storm and is no longer a ripe target for grandstanding rhetoric. Congress, the only body that seems to have the weight and mechanism to hold the behemoth that is the NFL accountable, is once again losing its resolve.

The truth is, lawmakers have been in bed with the NFL for decades. The incentive to appease the NFL and the franchises within their states has always been a lucrative one for members of Congress. The NFL and its political action committees have contributed millions of dollars to members of Congress over the last two election cycles. The NFL's lobbying efforts in Washington are extensive. The result — akin to the days of Standard Oil and U.S. Steel — is a professional sports conglomerate, functioning as a monopoly, in bed with the United States government.

Scolding the NFL for its handling of domestic violence or Native American sensitivity makes a for a good sound bite. But Congress's resolve to act on any serious NFL special interest, such as tax exemption, has always been incredibly deflating.

Spatola is a West Point graduate and former captain in the U.S. Army. He currently serves as a college basketball analyst for CBS Sports and SiriusXM radio.