BY Art Thiel 06:00AM 06/08/2020

Thiel: Video pulls Goodell to players; enter Trump

A powerful video by NFL players seemed to take Commissioner Roger Goodell hostage. His willingness to speak their words has put him back in Trump’s Twitter range.

Roger Goodell was trapped. His only out was the truth. How awkward.  / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

As fears grew about covid-19, the sports world wondered what kind of long-term  changes a pandemic would bring to its operations, conduct and finances.

Then came the public murder of George Floyd, a handcuffed black man under the knee of a white cop who looked as casual as if he were writing a parking ticket. The racial outrage, as you may have read, is causing a global cultural earthquake.

In sports, the epicenter was Friday in the basement of the New York-area home of Roger Goodell, from where the commissioner surprisingly ceded some control of the world’s most influential sports league to its players.

It was like a hostage catch-and-release.

The players produced for national social-media release a 70-scond video of blunt language and images so well-crafted that Goodell was trapped.

Goodell’s only rational way out was to recite verbatim the words demanded by his video captors. As far as I can tell, Goodell was unable to signal to his audience via Morse code eye-blinks how to come rescue him.

Depending on what kind of actions follow those evocative words, NFL players may be in for an upgrade in status relative to October 2017. That’s when owners met to discuss how to respond to widespread kneel-down protests by players, a controversy that became a national political, well, football.

During the meeting, multiple sources quoted Houston Texans owner Bob McNair as saying, “We can’t let the inmates run the prison.”

McNair apologized, calling it “a figure of speech,” but the apology was because he was caught, not because he was sorry. Here is how one of his players, LT Duane Brown, now of the Seahawks, explained it then.

“I can’t say I’m surprised,” he said. “I’m sure there are a lot of owners that feel that way . . . I think it was ignorant. I think it was embarrassing. I think it angered a lot of players, including myself. We put our bodies and minds on the line every time we step on that field, and to use an analogy of inmates in prison, that’s disrespectful.”

McNair died in 2018, but as we fast-forward to the 2020 protests, we see not much has improved despite his departure. The players’ video had its genesis May 30 in the official league statement regarding Floyd’s killing, a bloodless word salad of corporate-speak:

Besides drawing large criticism from outside, the lame statement from a league whose team rosters are 70 percent black annoyed numerous people in-house. That included the Black Engagement Network, a group formed within the last five years to advocate for the league’s black employees and push for diversity within the NFL.

According to an intriguing story from The Athletic, a white video producer in the league’s content creation group, Bryndon Minter, decided to channel the dissatisfaction. Without authorization, Minter contacted New Orleans Saints WR and activist Michael Thomas with a video script.

Thomas quickly shared the script with some of the game’s biggest names, including Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson, Saquon Barkley, Odell Beckham and Ezekiel Elliott. Minter, aware he was committing a potentially fireable offense, nevertheless gathered each player’s video contribution and, with the help of others, made history.

Goodell was given a courtesy heads-up before the video went public, so was preparing his response as the storm hit at 6:14 p.m. PT Friday. Thomas’s social-media account alone hit 1.7 million views that night.

Remarkably, the jobs of Minter and those who helped him are safe.

“We’re proud of him, and his work,” league spokesman Brian McCarthy told The Athletic.

But getting Goodell to admit the NFL “was wrong” in not taking seriously the claims first made by Colin Kaepernick in 2016 won’t help him to manage up.

It isn’t known yet whether Goodell’s bosses, the 32 owners, knew or cared that he was choosing the truth as a seldom-used cover to save himself. What is known is that at least 10 of them have been donors to President Trump, including the Patriots’ Bob Kraft and the Cowboys’ Jerry Jones.

Trump Friday reinserted himself into the NFL culture wars when he tweeted that Saints QB Drew Brees shouldn’t have apologized for his remark that he would never agree with anyone who disrespected the flag. Tweeted Trump: “NO KNEELING!”

Trump was back Sunday night, trolling Goodell with more insipidness:

So now, regarding Trump and the NFL, it is on. Again.

But this time, the players have forced Goodell to their side. As well as that portion of the nation shocked into awareness by the gruesomeness in Minneapolis.

It is now upon the owners to make policy regarding protests in 2020.

While potentially dozens of plot turns nationally may alter things prior to the first proposed kickoffs in August — such as a fresh spike in coronavirus cases in training camps or NFL cities —  it is reasonable to suggest at the moment that regarding kneeling during the anthem, the owners will have to tell either their employees or Trump to drop dead.

As we have learned in the worst ways, Trump has none of the discipline to govern, nor the intellectual rigor to create policy from political, moral, religious or academic beliefs, because he has none. All he knows is vengeance.

The owners must be pining for McNair and the good old days, when a simple “figure of speech” excuse could be the workaround to save a season.


  • Typo 3rd paragraph. You can delete this message.

    • art thiel

      Fixed. Thanks.

  • Robert Rhodes

    John Elway has become public with his support for players and their activism. He said he could not have been “more wrong” about his understanding of teammates from other backgrounds and that he would no longer “stand on the sidelines.” He further stated that he encourages player activism. The Broncos organization will be participating in a player organized protest at the Colorado state capitol. To me, his statement is more powerful than that of Goodell. Will his leadership resonate among team owners and executives?

    • art thiel

      Elway’s words will be influential, but there’s only one commish. Good for Elway to admit error.

  • DJ

    Thank you Art.

    Right now, and for the foreseeable future, in this country we have a blender filled with layered viewpoints regarding racism, respect for the flag, knowledge of each of our backgrounds, exposure and plight. The individual flavors each vary between bitter, sour, some sweet, and can be very strong or overbearing. There’s also patience, understanding, criticism and anger.

    Our future together is going to be based on how well this all is blended. It’s gonna be tough to mix, there’s big frozen chunks of conflicting multi-generational beliefs that threaten to stall a weak blender, and could be a violent, shaking, out of balance display, and may never mix sufficiently. Even a Vitamix starts out loud and violent. But it has the ability to create a smooth mix, that is enriching and enjoyable.

    The end result is dependent on the quality of the blender, and not possible without each of the ingredients – each of us!

    If we are the ingredients, we therefore NEED EACH OTHER to get this done.

    The quality of the blender is dependent on everyone’s understanding and patience.
    We need leaders that are willing to help us through the inevitable violence of hitting that ON switch, and then provide masterful control of the speed dial. Who will that be? There is no capable individual in sight. I think it’s going to have to be a collection of individuals, working together as a team.

    DEMONSTRATION DURING NATIONAL ANTHEM It is possible that there are those that would tolerate or even appreciate a demonstration against the injustices against Blacks, but to whom the singing of the National Anthem and display of the flag is sacrilege to interrupt for any reason? Does the demonstration, kneeling, STILL need to occur during the National Anthem?? Isn’t the Black Lives Matter movement important enough to demand it’s own display, instead of having to share? I think it is. I would think that a good middle ground, but more, a rightful emphasis on respect for the Black Lives Matter movement, might be for the NFL to propose a moment of silence, or other display of dedication against violence and systematic oppression of our Black citizens, that precedes or follows the National Anthem. To continue to argue on this topic is non-productive and getting really old. Differences are sometimes best resolved by compromise or innovation.

    • Kirkland

      Before last weekend’s games in Germany’s soccer league, which doesn’t play the German anthem pregame, players on both teams AND the referees gathered around the center kickoff circle, took a knee, and held a moment’s silence in honor of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement. The coaching staffs and bench players on the sidelines also took a knee in those moments. That’s one way to honor the moment American leagues could adopt.

      If fans were allowed in (COVID restrictions require empty stadiums for now), I wonder how the fans would’ve marked the moment, as taking a knee in crowded stadium seating rows or designated standing sections is tricky.

      • DJ

        That’s really cool. Thanks for sharing.

        I hope whatever displays are done, that they are sustained and not just a one time event. The message needs to be constant, forever, because problem has been constant, and won’t easily go away.

    • art thiel

      I’ve read about an idea to offer brief time after the anthem dedicated to players’ expressions. Could be signs, could be video, a one-minute speech, a song. The point is to allow for a social justice message to have a big TV audience.

      Might make for a worthwhile discussion.

  • tor5

    Well said, Art. I had missed Goodell’s original statement. Your description of it as “a bloodless word salad of corporate-speak” is perfect. One other pertinent point that can’t be overlooked: Trump is a draft dodger, making his fake patriotism all the more despicable… a fact my Vietnam vet bro-in-law never lets me forget.

    • art thiel

      There’s a reason many in the military refer to him as President Bone Spurs.

  • Alan Harrison

    Yeah, so, the blindness toward humanity by the NFL is only out-awfulled by Tangerine Mussolini. It’s difficult to take Goodell seriously regarding racism when one of its teams’ names is an outrageously offensive slur toward Native Americans. Hey Roger, First Nations’ lives matter.

    • Kirkland

      Of course, how do you get Goodell to force a name change when the Supreme Court recently ruled that racially offensive names are protected speech (Matal v. Tam, 2017), and when owner of said team — and one of Goodell’s bosses — refuses to change it?

      • art thiel

        Good point about the Supremes. But there’s no reason the owners can’t create a house rule that authorizes a voting mechanism to act against a club whose actions are detrimental to the league. Except that the owners fear a precedent for when they wish to do something detrimental.

    • art thiel

      It’s difficult to take the NFL hierarchy seriously when they’ve avoided and/or ham-fisted so many social issues. As you point out, the fact that they allow themselves no mechanism to alter a nickname many fans find reprehensible is ludicrous.

  • Husky73

    Trump has two emotions– anger and paranoia.

    • art thiel

      Paranoia is a condition, but don’t start listing his other conditions.

  • woofer

    “During the meeting, multiple sources quoted Houston Texans owner Bob McNair as saying, “We can’t let the inmates run the prison.””

    It would have been more accurate if McNair had said, “We can’t let the slaves run the plantation.”

    The NFL is modeled after the Roman gladiator system. The gladiators engage in mayhem on the arena floor while the crowds seated in the circle above scream for blood. And, to the immediate point, Roman gladiators were mostly slaves.

    But it’s tough to maintain the proper plantation mindset when the top slaves are paid $10 million and more a year. The wealth and adulation make them forget their assigned place in the system. And they start speaking out.

    So you get the awkwardness of the Kaepernick saga. After lots of back and forth and mealy-mouthed blather, the bottom line is that the disobedient slave was permanently banned from the arena for the despicable sin of silently kneeling during the opening flag ritual.

    Which brings us to the plight of Roger Goodell. As Harry Edwards has pointed out, Goodell’s tape supporting the protests will mean nothing in the long run unless he can back it up with another honest shot for Kaepernick at a job playing in the NFL.

    Goodell has painted himself into a corner. At the end of the day, the NFL owners pay him to crack the whip on their behalf. It’s more than just dealing with Trump’s personal ire. Football is king in the South, and a lot of the white fan base will want the God-given natural order restored.

    Goodell is likely to find himself caught in a crossfire between the owners and the black players with no place to hide.

    • art thiel

      Goodell’s dilemma was mostly my point, although I don’t think the commissioner insisting a team hire Kap is a good practice. Kap and the league did reach a settlement, although it doesn’t preclude his hire.

      At this point, I think Goodell has to back the players, and the owners have to back Goodell. Whoda thunk?

      • BB46

        Art, from your knowledge. I saw a few times that Kap had holes in his QB game and that was also a reason he wasn’t getting an NFL job. Mainly they said his accuracy. Is it talent or political that has kept him out of the league? I know he has the legs. Very dangerous with those. What is your opinion??

        • art thiel

          Last I saw him, I thought he was a competent NFL starter.

          Here’s a deeper dive from Wapo (hope you subscribe):

        • Seattle Psycho

          Nobody thinks he deserves a starting QB job but there are QBs in the league that are not so great. If he were allowed a chance and fair competition to compete he could beat them out.

  • LarryLurex70

    I was massively disappointed that the message from kneeling 3-4 years ago was watered down once coaches and whom ever else got involved. Then it became all about locking arms all in the name of who-knows-what. I’m honestly still perplexed as to exactly what Jerry Jones was doing out there on the field alongside his players. I’m not dumb enough to believe the goalposts had been moved towards what Kaepernick and Reid were doing (and, what players inside the ‘Hawks dressing room publicly supported) once the narrative shifted to peace and love or whatever it was.
    While it’s heartwarming to see so many white people who have never come close to experiencing anything even remotely close to police abuse, brutality, harassment or profiling speaking out now – particularly the ones speaking in favour of “black lives matter” (as a general principle, if not an organisation) – I’m still dreading the inevitable watering down of the response to the issue of the day that usually follows when well-intending people join a cause or movement en masse.
    On the other hand, it says plenty about this society that black people still have to wait for white people to get behind an issue before anyone other than black people will pay it any serious attention.

    • art thiel

      Upon reflection, the Trump SOB rant hit in the middle of a season, when players had almost no time to organize a response, and coaches were desperate to keep teams from splitting apart (hence Carroll’s goofy linked-arm compromise). Black players were divided between moderates and insurgents. It was a total mess, as are most things touched by Trump. I wouldn’t hold the incoherence against anyone.

      This time figures to be different.

  • jafabian

    As the year marches closer to Election Day and more reports come out how POTUS is alienating his base and dropping in the polls the NFL will become more and more emboldened in standing up for itself. IMO the recent statements by select military officers, GOP leaders and from White House staff helped make the decision to go public as well as POTUS’ reactions. Facebook grudgingly joining Twitter’s approach on how to handle controversial statements probably helped push them also since Facebook has a multiyear partnership with the NFL. I’ve wondered if any of the NFL’s sponsors have been pressuring them to get with the times.

    In response we’ve seen the inevitable tweetstorm and history has shown that job firings will soon follow, with new loyal Imperial stormtroopers in their place. The Vice President will be sent to a Colts game specifically to walk out when any player kneels during the anthem. To paraphrase Princes Leia’s statement to Moff Tarkin in a famous space saga the more POTUS tightens his grip more will slip through his fingers.

    • art thiel

      A fine quote pull, John. I’ve not read much about NFL sponsor pressure, partly because each has to get its house message in order before criticizing others. And each business is having to manage some degree of financial crisis.

      Facebook is a perfect tool for all tyrants, demagogues and nihilists because there are no guardrails protecting against a clear and present threat to civil and national security.

  • Archangelo Spumoni

    Today ESPN had Nate Boyer on and they were discussing Kaepernick’s original sitting protest that he changed to kneeling AFTER Boyer and Kaepernick spoke.
    It must be pointed out that Mr. Boyer, an actual United States Army Green Beret, has more patriotism in a single toenail than a certain Mango Mussolini’s entire family tree.

    I’ll take a “debate” between Mango and Boyer any time and rest assured you will see more of Mr. Boyer later on if Mango insists on prevaricating about the reason for the protests.