Grant Engle | Staff Writer
A group of young men sat in a bar in Chautauqua County. It was late in the evening, and the men were discussing their career aspirations.
Their friends’ long-term goals came up in the conversation. One planned on becoming the commissioner of the National Football League. He said it would happen.
Geof Follansbee, considering the odds, bet against his old friend. It wasn’t because he didn’t believe his friend was intelligent, talented or motivated. He figured it was a long shot that one of his friends could eventually be one of the most powerful men in professional sports.
Decades later, Follansbee is the CEO of the Chautauqua Foundation. His good friend with the high hopes of running the most-watched sport in the United States was Roger Goodell. In September 2006, Follansbee officially lost the bet.
Commissioner Goodell will participate in a moderated discussion at 10:45 a.m. Wednesday in the Amphitheater with Mike Slive, commissioner of the Southeastern Conference, in congruence with the Week Seven lecture theme, “The Ethics of Cheating.” The discussion will be moderated by NBC News correspondent Luke Russert.
Follansbee said he is happy to welcome his old friend back to the Institution. The Goodell family has had a long history at Chautauqua, and some family members are still actively involved on the grounds.
“We always love to welcome back anyone with the deep ties that Roger has to the Institution,” Follansbee said. “He’d be the first one to admit that Chautauqua has had a profound influence on his life.”
Sherra Babcock, director of the Department of Education and Youth Services, said a series of lectures devoted to “The Ethics of Cheating” would not be complete without a discussion on sports.
Goodell and Slive will talk about how athletes, coaches and franchises push the envelope for a competitive edge and higher revenue.
While some might expect two high-profile commissioners to give standard, cliché answers about the perils of cheating, Follansbee said the audience should not be surprised by a thoughtful discussion led by Russert.
“We’ve brought in one of the country’s young, emerging journalists to make sure that they just don’t get away with commissioner-type answers,” Follansbee said. “Anyone who has spent any time with Roger knows that he says what he believes. The answers are going to be commissioner-type answers, but they’re this commissioner’s answers.”
Follansbee said he expects Russert to ask the commissioners how their upbringing and family values have sculpted the way they lead their organizations. As a lifelong Chautauquan, Follansbee said he has an idea how the Institution impacted Goodell’s life and leadership style.
“He firmly believes that a great deal of who he is comes from the time he spent at Chautauqua with his family,” Follansbee said.
Returning to the morning lecture platform is one of many activities at Chautauqua in which Goodell has participated. In 1971, he joined two Chautauqua Opera productions. Alongside that, Goodell played in the men’s slow-pitch softball league. Follansbee jokingly critiqued his friend’s pitching style as “pretty bad.”
Babcock said another important part of the lecture theme is finding out how to instill a culture of honor and integrity in all facets of our lives. Follansbee said the audience can expect Goodell to give concise examples of how his core values have shaped his tenure as commissioner.
“Everyone recognizes that during his time as commissioner, he’s put his stamp on the position,” Follansbee said. “What you’re going to hear is exactly what he’s been doing. He firmly believes that playing professional football is a privilege.”