Roger Goodell, 22 years old and armed with a newly minted economics degree from Washington & Jefferson College, typed a letter to National Football League Commissioner Pete Rozelle.

“Being an avid football fan, I have always desired a career in the NFL,” Goodell wrote on July 2, 1981.

The son of a former U.S. senator, Goodell joined the NFL as an intern the following year. He never left, ascending to the league’s top post, presiding over a $10 billion global sports and entertainment behemoth that’s being inundated with criticism over his handling of the Ray Rice domestic violence affair.

Some, including the National Organization for Women, have called for Goodell’s ouster, a move sports industry executives say is unlikely. Sponsors such as McDonald’s Corp., Microsoft Corp., PepsiCo Inc. and Anheuser-Busch InBev NV are unlikely to walk away because they have a collective billion dollars invested in making sure fans of the most-watched U.S. sports league tap their tablets, gulp their beverages and devour their burgers.

“If you’re these companies, you’ve hitched your wagon to the NFL hard-core,” said Rick Burton, a former chief marketing officer of the U.S. Olympic Committee. “The sponsors need the NFL, but they’re also going to bring pressure, pressure that’s tied to their needs.”

The NFL reaps about $1 billion a year in sponsorship revenue, said Burton, whose resume includes a stint as commissioner of Australia’s National Basketball League.

About 205 million people tuned in to NFL games last year, representing 81 percent of all television homes in the U.S. The 2013 season averaged 17.6 million viewers a game, the second-most-watched season after 2010.

Safe Job

Former Oakland Raiders Chief Executive Officer Amy Trask, once among the highest-ranking women in professional sports and now an analyst with NFL broadcast partner CBS, said the hullabaloo over Rice won’t cost Goodell his job or the league sponsorship dollars.

“It will take something even more colossal, more monumental and irreparable,” she said in an e-mail without being specific.

Verizon Communications Inc. CEO Lowell McAdam, whose company is a league partner, at a conference in New York today called Goodell a man of “very high integrity,” adding that he doesn’t believe there is a conspiracy to coverup what Rice did.