What happens when you have an organization that is solely focused on greed? An organization that does whatever it can to squeeze money at every opportunity, even to the point where it clouds the virtues and values such an organization purports to represent? Perhaps we have no better example than the National Football League.
This week, the owners of the National Football League will be holding two days of meetings in New York. As expected, the hot topic of discussion will be the behavior of players during the National Anthem. Commissioner Roger Goodell referenced the recent events covering protests, the American flag, and the national anthem in a letter he sent to team executives this week.
For those who read the letter, I would invite you to contact me to figure out what it really means. After encouraging and expecting players to stand for the national anthem, he also said that the league deeply cares about the causes that are near and dear to players’ hearts. He summed it up by saying the current controversy keeps us from having an honest conversation about the issues of the day.
From my perspective, the commissioner’s words ring pretty hollow. It’s now that this controversy is having a potential effect to the league’s bottom line that he is only now concerned about having an honest conversation.
That honest conversation that the commissioner wanted should have taken place last year when Colin Kaepernick was first making headlines with his behavior. But why have a difficult conversation when the money is rolling in hand over fist?
In their September issue, Forbes magazine reported that the average of value of a franchise in the National Football League grew by 8 percent; the average franchise now has a market value of $2.5 billion. Yes, $2.5 billion. Five years ago, only the Dallas Cowboys were worth more than $2 billion. Now, 27 of the league’s 32 teams are worth at least $2 billion. On top of that, with new stadiums and franchise relocations, the amount of money that is provided for the league’s franchises is expected to grow.
If you are one of the individuals or families that own an NFL franchise, it’s pretty easy to determine that Commissioner Goodell has been good for business. But has he been good for the game?
This latest controversy shows a continued inability to deal with sensitive issues in a constructive way. Instead of coming up with a comprehensive plan to react to Colin Kaepernick and the current wave of protests, it has been allowed to grow to something where now it is admittedly hard to put the genie back in the bottle. The stakes have become too high to where now any solution is more than likely going to be wholly unsatisfying to most people.
Add to this a history of haphazard and slapshod enforcement of the league’s “Personal Conduct Policy.” In one instance, a player can get a four-game suspension for his role in a ball-deflating scandal (Tom Brady) and in another instance, a player can get a one-game suspension for his involvement in a criminal obstruction of justice charge (Adam Jones).
And in all honesty, the teams themselves aren’t much better. A small minority of owners have threatened to cut or release players that participate in these pre-game protests. Yet, many of these same owners have allowed players to play when faced with criminal charges, most notably for domestic violence.
When I was I kid, basketball player Charles Barkley let the world know that he was not a role model. I understand that — to a point.
But in a world where many times our identity is based on what we do and where we do it, we are representing our workplaces and our professions both on and off the clock.
Which brings us back to the commissioner. Through this whole controversy (and others), I never got the feeling that he can clearly articulate the aspirational values of the National Football League. I often wonder when he sees kids playing football in a vacant lot, is he worried about good sportsmanship and fair play, or is he just worried about how much money the league made this year?
William “Bill” Lutz is executive director of The New Path Inc. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.