Goodell, Smith Confident NFL Can Foster Change On Social Issues
Social justice demonstrations are sure to be prominent as the NFL begins its season this week, with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell saying the league is working with teams, players and the NFLPA to “reflect the way we all feel” about social justice. Appearing on NBC's "Inspire Change" special last night with NFLPA Exec Dir DeMaurice Smith, Goodell said, “You’re going to see it in a very emotional way. ... In a way that I think it's important to do, and it will be balanced.” Smith said being able to protest is "incredibly important" for the players, and the effort between the union and league is "about two things: promoting and supporting our players and their voice but also, embracing this idea that while football is great and we all love the game, I would never want to be in a world where the game is simply a distraction from what's going on in our communities." Goodell said of his shifting attitude on protests, "I didn't just educate myself, I was educated by our players." Goodell: “I can feel the emotion from our players and the fear that they have consistently lived with. ... When you hear that and you see it and you feel it, it makes you say, ‘This is wrong.’”
BIGGER THAN THE GAME: Smith said on-field protests “will be powerful,” and "our players, our fans, our coaches, our owners are all making a decision that we are not going to let ourselves be used in a way to take the spotlight off of what’s happening in our community." He noted it is an "important time in America where there are some public officials who wish that we would just simply play football or play basketball and get away from what's really happening.” Goodell said, “Sports has been a big part of social change.” Smith: “Players have done a great job of embracing that identity and understanding that they should not be relegated to a two-dimensional athlete." Goodell said “absolutely” the owners are buying in, and “you’re going to have some clubs who do things better than others and some teams that may do it differently, but that's okay if it’s organic and it’s with the players.” Goodell: “There is a chance to bridge differences in a way that ultimately is going to make us all better” (“Inspire Change,” NBC, 9/9).
TAKING STEPS: Ravens DE Calais Campbell, who is on the NFLPA's exec committee, said team owners still are "really trying to understand the players, understand what we go through and trying to help us and obviously, we have a long way to go." But their shift has been a "great start." Former NFL coach Jeff Fisher said, “There’s a significant difference between hearing and listening. I think the league for a long time was hearing: ‘Yeah, we got it, we’ll get a handle on this.’” Fisher: “I just encourage every single coach out there at any level to be proactive and to listen and to be understanding” ("CBS This Morning," 9/10). ESPN's Stephen A. Smith said, "You’re going to see a lot of guys expressing themselves more than ever before, and the owners won’t stand in their way. Because they want football, and they don't want a public backlash that could ultimately compromise their season” (“GMA,” ABC, 9/10).
BIGGER PICTURE: In DC, Jerry Brewer writes, "This disruptive year has given the league an unexpected gift: a do-over. It amounts to social amnesty for those who previously suffered from racial indifference. Multiple forces have combined to change the climate and put the NFL in a much stronger position to do the right thing this time." Brewer: "Trump will keep barking, but after various reports that he referred to American soldiers as 'suckers' and 'losers,' his role as chief football antagonist has been compromised. It frees the NFL to stop compromising its humanity and live up to Commissioner Roger Goodell’s pledge to be better" (WASHINGTON POST, 9/10).