BY Art Thiel 06:46PM 10/11/2017

Thiel: Goodell was ‘proud;’ now he’s confused

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell wants to “get past” the protest controversy. Michael Bennett and fellow players handed him a way forward in August. Chance missed.

Roger Goodell was “proud” of his players’ protests last month. Now, now so much. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

Roger Goodell has a robust history of handling political and social issues as if he were trying to catch a butterfly with a catcher’s mitt. But rarely has the NFL commissioner gotten the point completely backward. If nothing else, the man is out there on the frontier of foolishness.

Goodell made national headlines Tuesday went he sent a memo to team owners and executives saying that the league will consider changes to the game manual that says the players “should” stand during the national anthem. But the various gestures protesting social injustice by some players have so far gone unpunished, because the action breaks no NFL rule nor civil law.

But President Trump’s tweetstorm rages, no matter how inaccurate or misleading, have clearly intimidated Goodell, along with some fan complaints about the intrusion of racial politics into playpens.

So despite the fact that in late September he said the players’ protests after Trump’s initial efforts to divide the league and country “made him proud,” Goodell now wants a scheduled owners meeting next week in New York to take up “a plan” to stop the stance in which he ever so briefly took pride.

Here’s where Goodell’s memo had it backward. He wrote:

“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.”


The honest conversations have begun because of the protests, even if a conversation begins on one side begins with, “Oh, hell no.” Without the controversy, there would be zero reason for most white people to give much time to thinking about or hearing from people who support the gestures. Will gestures change the minds of the critics? No one can say, except for one anecdote at a time.

What can be said is if the power brokers and some fans aren’t made uncomfortable, it is certain nothing will change.

The heart of Goodell’s motivation is his remark that “we need to move past this controversy.” He so wants this to be over, he’s happily selling whatever credibility he gained with his earlier remarks that were supportive.

But to make “getting past” the tumult the first priority means asking some players to turn their backs on the gunshot deaths of unarmed African American men at the hands of police, deaths that players thought were sufficiently appalling that they were willing to put their more-than-comfortable livings in some jeopardy. They risk becoming “Kaepernicked.”

One of Goodell’s bosses, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, went so far as to say any of his players who “disrespected the flag” during the anthem would be benched.  As Kevin Sherrington of the Dallas Morning News pointed out, wouldn’t it be something if Jones had the same vehemence regarding his players’ disrespect of women.

Goodell also wrote that continuing the protests threatens “to erode the unifying power of our game, and is now dividing us, and our players, from many fans across the country.” Hey, the owners and players have been divided ever since the players unionized. And Goodell needs to direct his laments to the divider-in-chief, who turned a slow burn into a conflagration, in part by using his vice president as a tool Sunday with a staged walkout of the 49ers-Colts game in Indianapolis when some San Francisco players kneeled.

Goodell’s problem is that he is being reactive instead of pro-active. He’s behind, playing catch-up. He missed a chance this summer.

He could have started by supporting much of what was sent to him in a 10-page memo in August by Seahawks DE Michael Bennett and three other NFL players that sought, among other things, a social-justice awareness month similar to what the NFL does for breast cancer and military appreciation.

The memo was a call to positive action that followed a phone conversation between Goodell and the players earlier in the summer. It was no ambush; he knew they were preparing a thoughtful presentation, which also included an addendum explaining to the “What are these rich guys complaining about?” crowd about the bigger issues driving the discussion: Criminal justice reform, police accountability, bail reform and the criminalizing of poverty, among other topics.

The authors also made clear that they were seeking support, not confrontation:

To be clear, we are asking for your support. We appreciate your acknowledgment on the call regarding the clear distinction between support and permission. For us, support means: bear all or part of the weight of; hold up; give assistance to,  especially financially; enable to function or act.

After the memo was leaked to Yahoo! Sports, Bennett was asked whether he had a response from the league office. He said he hadn’t, but expressed no dismay, figuring the press of seasonal business was upon all sides.

Well, now the seasonal business includes perhaps a revised code of anthem conduct that, done poorly, is almost certain to be polarizing. Goodell was already trying recast from his Tuesday memo the belief by Trump and others that he ordered all players to stand. He sent a follow-up statement Wednesday that the memo was “not a mandate” to stand for the anthem.

It sounds as if Goodell has no clear strategy. But rather than taking another shot at him, it’s fair to say that anyone would have a hard time navigating between respect for the players’ position and the polls showing a majority of fans, not just Trump, opposed to the protests, and the impact those sentiments may have on the willingness of sponsors and fans to keep throwing money at the NFL.

But Goodell should know that nearly all protests are borne from an aggrieved minority. The majority always prefers the status quo. And he also was given a rational, enlightened plan of action by players who seek tangible progress that could merit a reconsideration of their protests.

So the meeting next week may not be as fraught as it seems if Goodell truly was proud of his players. Especially after they’ve shown him a way forward. He might even abandon his catcher’s mitt.



  • Joe_Fan

    I don’t think Goodell realized who he was dealing with, that being the “master “ divider in chief. Trump is on a mission to polarize us all.

    Once tRump started making comments about pulling the NFL’s nonprofit status that seemed to sway Goodell as it probably frightened the owners.

    • Parts

      The league gave up it’s non-profit status in 2015

      • Joe_Fan

        My bad. The other day I heard tRump threatening to get rid of the NFL’s tax breaks and assumed this is what he was talking about.

        • Parts

          I’m pretty sure that’s exactly what he was talking about. Except, just like with everything else, he doesn’t know his butt from a hole in the ground.

    • art thiel

      Actually, Trump was wrong. Hard to believe, I know. The NFL corporate office changed in 2015 to for-profit, just to eliminate the perpetual criticism. The 32 teams have always been taxed as for-profit corporations. A non-issue.

  • DAWG

    Proof once again of the necessity to respectfully protest injustice with discipline and calm. Taking a knee or sitting on a bench quietly is considered controversial ? Come on. Really ? Goodell and NFL owners need to get a grip and simply accept the players’ rights. This is America.

    • art thiel

      As you may have heard, America is different things to different people. And even that is unacceptable to some.

      • John M

        I still have mixed feelings about the knee thing, Art. I do believe in the players right to do it, but I think many of us struggle with the act under given circumstances – basically is the possible gain worth the distraction (fear) you pointed out, or will this ultimately cause them to slide backward in their efforts? Yes, it stimulates conversation, but how much fracturing are we getting with that?

        • art thiel

          We’re already fractured, John. I understand your struggle, but that has always been the purpose of protest — to make the uninvolved at least think. It was the reason Americans had the tea party in Boston — they had to make the Brits uncomfortable.

  • Good piece as usual, Art. Kudos to Michael Bennett for his thoughtful leadership on this issue. Goodall and the owners are heading for the wrong side of history. Political protest has always been a protected freedom under the Constitution and if the respectful kneeling rubs some folks the wrong way, well that’s a cost of protecting all of our rights as citizens.
    I could suggest better ways for the league to handle the situation, but in the interest of time, I’ll just predict that if the NFL goes with Jerry Jones’ misguided approach they’re risking a full on boycott by players. 70% of players are black. How’s the NFL going to cope with a one game work stoppage? Pretty sure some players would welcome an extra “bye” week anyway, so if they feel they’re being treated unfairly by management they may logically decide to make a collective statement and take more than a knee.
    PS–people who treat the flag and anthem as a sacred object/ritual are the real problem. The flag symbolizes freedom, including the freedom to protest and speak out against perceived injustice. Retaliating against such demonstrations is un-American

    • art thiel

      I’m not sure any player is ready to sacrifice paychecks or careers yet in a job that on average lasts three years. Goodell is including players at the meeting to work out a compromise that keeps him from looking like the bad cop.

  • WestCoastBias79

    I realize Goodell is not his own man–he works for the owners–many of which are jingoistic white billionaires like Jerry, but wow can this guy not get anything right. I realize saying something nice about the NBA is an anathema around these parts, but I have a hard time seeing Adam Silver screwing this up as badly.

    I dream that someday I’ll be a $48million/year serial bungler.

    • art thiel

      Actually, Silver has reminded all players that the NBA procedures manual mandates standing for the anthem. Something tells me the players will have a workaround.

  • tor5

    Nice insight, Art. It seems like Goodell gets to the cusp of wisdom, then he gets hammered by some owners and ends up completely lost. Maybe my thinking is a little too grandiose, but I suspect that we’re in a time not unlike McCarthyism or Japanese internment. The day will come when those who kneel, or support kneeling, will be seen as bravely supporting the right cause. And those who kowtow to our current president, will be seen as weak, shameful lemmings. The day might not be so far off. Owners thinking about profits might want to consider this scenario.

    • Mavis Jarvis

      The way the NFL reacts to this controversy is a two-edged sword. Perhaps the recent drop in TV ratings is in part due to conservatives angry at Kapernick & co. However, if the NFL is seen as kowtowing to Trump and restricting players’ free speech rights, there is a whole generation of young people who will turn their back on football. The NFL is already on thin ice with these younger would-be fans because of concussions.

      • tor5

        Agreed. I think young people (really, ALL people) gravitate toward authenticity almost more than what they intellectually agree or disagree with. The worst thing the NFL can do is look like they’re making floundering PR moves and aren’t guided by any principle. And that looks like the path they’re on now… with kneeling, just as with concussions.

        • John M

          The principle they’re guided by is money. As for Jones edict, his team is located in Texas where rational thought is locked into the eighteenth century. Jones’ principle is also money, based on Texas honor and pride, of course . . .

          • art thiel

            Yes. Money. Always.

        • art thiel

          The NFL so far has been bulletproof to bad PR. That doesn’t mean it won’t change.

      • art thiel

        The ratings drop is a bit of a red herring, since the percentage is small and can be attributed in part to cable-cutters as well as unmeasured consumption. But many young people may simply have little interest in spectator sports outside of the global game of soccer.

    • art thiel

      Many are imagining dark futures. I can’t tell. My guess is the owners’ biggest football-related worry is that fights among fans over politics creates an atmosphere of fear in the stadium.

  • Art love your football talk but your bleeding red with your SJW commentary. Here’s the scenario. An old cowboy goes into the bar for whiskey. The barkeep dives him soda pop and start talking about the benefits of sheep vs. cattle. Enough already . I bought whiskey I want whiskey.

    • Paul Harmening

      Make it a double Joe. In fact, just leave the bottle. It’l take all that and more to relieve the stench from this BLM, Antifa, Black Power, Soros loving globalists site.

      • art thiel

        Hey, Paul. Welcome back. I knew you couldn’t resist. Here’s an e-hug.

        • John M

          Thanks, Art, for my first smile of the morning . . .

        • Paul Harmening

          I never left…Hard to resist one of sports writers best wordsmiths even though we are on opposite ends of the social/political spectrum.

          AND, I apologize for my latest and totally uncharacteristic rant response to PhilDave’s reply. Should have stopped at the word ‘bottle’ and not had made it a real-time double. (:

          • art thiel

            The ability to admit and handle shortcoming is a rare virtue, Paul. Cheers.

    • art thiel

      PhilDave, did you buy something here? Or are you getting it for free?

      You know about free, right? Free to read my thoughts, and free to share yours.


  • Husky73

    Tremendous piece, Art. Why does the word “hamfisted” come to mind any time that Goodell is in the conversation? I wonder what Jerry Jones would do if Dak Prescott took a knee?

  • Michael Galey

    Let me start with an apology to you Art Thiel my rant on this blog going political was based on my 27 years of military service and regardless of whom is in office I will respect that office and position. Next the display of the National Colors and the sounding of the National Anthem is as sacred as my oath I took to support and defend against all enemies. In summation YOU Art Thiel are without question is the best of the reporters I’ve read or seen here in my 37 years to include Wayne Cody, Steve Raible (not too much) et al. I do hope you accept my sincere apology and I remain yours truly, Michael T Galey SGT. (ret) US Army

  • domdog

    Ummmm…….did I miss the discussion about how people of color are being jailed and killed at an irregular rate in our country. I am astounded that people let that pass in this situation specifically. I get Goodell is involved and this is a sports column but, it’s Goodell, some what the players and definitely the public who has missed the boat on that part of the conversation.
    May be I’m not too on articulate about how this makes me feel. Every time I read an article around this issue the Elephant in the room is not discussed or focused on, I get really pissed. Article after article. Amazing.

  • Bryan Clark

    It seems like a lot of people are having trouble seeing the forest for the trees these days. Many of my childhood friends (from your lovely neck of the woods) post about capitalism = crapitalism, as if they’re doing SO WELL in communist countries around the world. You’ve got a socialist city council member who doubles as a slandering social justice warrior, and the most leftist populace in the entire country, yet governments around the state are on hands and knees begging one of the largest companies in the world to come in and remake a wing of their city in Seattle’s new, pricey image. Pretty weird scenarios.

  • John M

    A friend sent this and I thought I should pass it on. This is exactly the kind of thing I feared regarding the protests – more negative than positive reactions:

    “Bud Light’s brand parent company Anheuser-Busch InBev — one of the NFL’s biggest sponsors — is rethinking their NFL sponsorship, and they want your input.

    The NFL player protests of the National Anthem have backfired in a major way on the league. It has seen sponsors pull out, ratings decline and teams play in front of practically empty stadiums.

    In the wake of increased national anthem protests, Anheuser-Busch is reconsidering their NFL sponsorship, likely because the protests are very unpopular among everyday Americans. Bud Light currently serves as the official beer of the NFL.

    At the end of 2015, the company extended its current deal, which is slated to expire at the end of the 2016-17 season, for another six years through the 2022 season, but that might all change very quickly.

    So the company set up a hotline for fans to call and give their thoughts about the protests and Anheuser-Busch’s sponsorship of the NFL. The number for the hotline is: 1-800-342-5283.”