ESPN’s Adam Schefter has obtained a copy of a letter NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell sent today to all 32 teams. With every week that goes by, the anthem protests are further alienating the league’s core constituency and sinking it deeper into a political muck it may never be able to get out of.
So he’s pleading with the clubs to knock it off and stand for the anthem – all of them, every player – and he wants the owners to seriously consider mandating it if they don’t.
To: Chief Executives/ Club Presidents
From: Commissioner Goodell
Date: October 10, 2017
Re: Fall Meeting/National Anthem
We live in a country that can feel very divided. Sports, and especially the NFL, brings people together and lets them set aside those divisions, at least for a few hours. The current dispute over the National Anthem is threatening to erode the unifying power of our game, and is now dividing us, and our players, from many fans across the country.
I’m very proud of our players and owners who have done the hard work over the past year to listen, understand and attempt to address the underlying issues within their communities. At our September committee meetings, we heard directly from several players about why these issues are so important to them and how we can support their work. And last week, we met with the leadership of the NFLPA and more players to advance the dialogue.
Like many of our fans, we believe that everyone should stand for the National Anthem. It is an important moment in our game. We want to honor our flag and our country, and our fans expect that of us. We also care deeply about our players and respect their opinions and concerns about critical social issues. The controversy over the Anthem is a barrier to having honest conversations and making real progress on the underlying issues. We need to move past this controversy, and we want to do that together with our players.
Building on many discussions with clubs and players, we have worked to develop a plan that we will review with you at next week’s League meeting. This would include such elements as an in-season platform to promote the work of our players on these core issues, and that will help to promote positive change in our country. We want to ensure that any work at the League level is consistent with the work that each club is doing in its own community, and that we dedicate a platform that can enable these initiatives to succeed. Additionally, we will continue the unprecedented dialogue with our players.
I expect and look forward to a full and open discussion of these issues when we meet next week in New York. Everyone involved in the game needs to come together on a path forward to continue to be a force for good within our communities, protect the game, and preserve our relationship with fans throughout the country. The NFL is at its best when we ourselves are unified. In that spirit, let’s resolve that next week we will meet this challenge in a unified and positive way.
Goodell is offering them some sort of bone in the form of a vaguely defined platform that will allow them to “promote positive change in our country,” whatever that means. Whatever it is won’t get them as much attention as the anthem protests, but neither will it threaten the future of the league that pays them all substantial salaries. You might think they’d be smart enough to recognize their own self-interest in this, but then, Jamele Hill isn’t smart enough. Why should they be?
Anyway, this if further evidence of what we’ve been telling you for weeks: This whole situation is a complete disaster for the NFL, and it gets worse by the week. Goodell ackowledges that unmistakably in the first bolded passage above. It’s diving the league from fans across the country who either don’t buy what they’re claiming about the police (which they shouldn’t, because it’s totally false), or don’t think the form of the protest is appropriate and don’t tune into NFL football to see such things.
The 2017 NFL season has become all about the protests. What happens in the games is almost incidental. And believe me, this is not good for the league. At all. Sports is an entertaining diversion. It’s designed to appeal to people in all walks of life and across all economic, racial and ideological spectrums. A lot of people have friends they can hardly agree with on anything, but they can talk to them about sports. It’s sometimes our only commonality, and there’s a lot of value to that.
Now the anthem kneelers threaten to destroy that very valuable distinctive about sports, because they think it’s more important to weaponize sports for political purposes. If this doesn’t stop soon, it’s going to precipitate an existential crisis for the NFL. Goodell knows it, and he’s desperate to find a way out. That’s what he has to do, but it’s hard to have much sympathy for him because he was one of those who tacitly endorsed this a mere three weeks ago when it seemed more important to spite President Trump.
Huh. Turns out maybe Trump was right all along about the anthem kneelers and Goodell knows it.