Almost everyone has had their priorities rearranged in the past two weeks. Brought into sharp focus. Learned abruptly what is important and what can take a backseat.
Everyone except, apparently, Roger Goodell.
Commissioner Tone Deaf now has turned into Dictator Obtuse. In announcing that the NFL draft would take place as planned April 23-25, Goodell also sent a memo warning teams not to criticize his decision.
The memo, as reported by ESPN’s Adam Schefter, said in part “public discussion of issues relating to the Draft serves no useful purpose and is grounds for disciplinary action.”
We know how hard the hammer can fall in the NFL. Just ask our old friend Colin Kaepernick.
There’s no place for personal opinion or free speech in the No Freedoms League.
Goodell was surely furious a couple of weeks ago, when some general managers and owners expressed unhappiness that the free-agency period went on as planned, despite the mounting coronavirus crisis.
National football commentator Peter King quoted an owner calling it, “tone deaf” and “ridiculous.” King quoted a general manager saying the league’s decision was “arrogant” and awful “optics.”
Holding the draft in a little more than three weeks is even more arrogant. Does the NFL think it is somehow exempt from the ravages and consequences of the disease?
Goodell reportedly is holed up in his mansion north of the city. But the area just blocks from NFL headquarters at 345 Park Avenue is a war zone. People are fighting for their lives at New York Presbyterian and Mount Sinai hospitals. There’s a field hospital set up in Central Park, a Navy ship docked at Pier 90 to provide more hospital beds.
One of the league’s premier head coaches, the Saints’ Sean Payton, has tested positive and was quarantined. Former New Orleans quarterback Bobby Hebert just lost his father to the disease. There are almost guaranteed to be more positive tests for NFL employees or their family members. As well as the family members of the young men who are hoping to be drafted. People are out of work, frightened for their future, worried about their loved ones.
The crisis is unfolding — or soon will be — in every NFL city. Priorities are being reshaped, resources redistributed. Emotions are raw. But the NFL wants to pretend it is business as usual.
What’s the hurry? And who is Goodell to think he’s above criticism for his rash actions?
The NFL is the one league in this country that did not have its season interrupted. The one sports league with the luxury of time. It could stand in solidarity with other leagues and sports entities around the world that are postponed or canceled because of the coronavirus. It could use its unique power to make a statement about safety and priorities: the shutdown of the NBA season was one of the first moments when many viewed the coronavirus pandemic with true seriousness.
Yet Goodell insists on blundering on, as though nothing is more important than getting the NFL draft on television.
There are already serious concerns about how the process will unfold, with teams’ ability to thoroughly scout players compromised. They will be conducting interviews through technology, which definitely will put some players at a disadvantage. The method will be inherently flawed.
In a stressful time for everybody, Goodell is only adding to the stress of his teams by insisting the draft go forward.
Some of my colleagues in sports media probably don’t agree with my preference that the NFL delay the draft. I get it. We’re all looking for sports content and we suddenly have none. Mock drafts will give people something to do for the next few weeks. The actual draft would provide content, something to write about, argue over, dissect for several more weeks.
Apologies, but I don’t view my need for sports content or NFL fans’ desire to be entertained as a huge priority. Not when the country is in the middle of a crisis. I’ll be happy when sports returns, because it will be a sign of normalcy. Until then, regular sports developments sound like unnecessary noise, pushing trivial matters into a stream of important news.
There is no pretense that things are normal or will be anytime soon. Over the weekend, the White House extended the restrictions on activity through the month of April.
We all have had our priorities changed. All of us except Roger Goodell.
But don’t you dare criticize him.