No one said the life of a major-sport commissioner would be easy, but Roger Goodell seems to make it harder than it is at times, too. Goodell offered praise for the players and their exercise of free-speech rights on NBC’s Today yesterday in an interview with Matt Lauer. He insisted that the fans “recognize the importance the NFL plays in our society,” and “I support our players speaking out on issues that they think need to be changed.” In a message to the fans, Goodell insisted that the rights of players such as Colin Kaepernick need to be respected:
Additionally, Lauer made a point of asking about whether it’d be particularly “difficult to see the players kneel or sit for the anthem” on the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, when many Americans will be feeling exceptionally patriotic.
“I don’t think so,” Goodell answered. “You know, we encourage our players to be respectful. We want them to do this so. But they also have rights. And we have to respect that.”
No one denies the players their right to speak out — at least, no one outside of the NFL’s front office, to which we’ll return in a moment. But the fans have the same rights to speak out and criticize these demonstrations by players made rich off of fan interest in the sport, too. They have every right to call these protests silly, insubstantial, disrespectful, and criticize the politicization of the game itself. Perhaps the fans would like the players to respect that, and respect them, by not turning a national pastime of escape and fun into yet another dreary reminder of politics.
Besides, if Goodell really feels this way, he should take his own advice. When it comes to bending the rules on gamewear to offer a more positive demonstration on the anniversary of 9/11, though, Goodell suddenly sounds much less supportive of personal speech, as the Daily Caller’s David Hookstead points out today:
At the same time Goodell is supporting Kaepernick he might also fine players who wear shoes supporting the victims of the deadly terrorists attacks on September 11, 2001.
Tennessee Titans linebacker Avery Williamson and New York Giants receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Victor Cruz were some players that wore cleats specially made to honor first responders and those who died. Goodell could levy fines since it’s against NFL rules to wear special shoes that don’t match teams’ uniforms.
In fact, the league issued an edict the day before Goodell’s defense of player speech rights against such demonstrations on behalf of 9/11 first responders:
Tennessee Titans linebacker Avery Williamson earlier in the week said he would wear specially-designed patriotic cleats when he lines up against the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.
The special red, white and blue cleats include stars, an American flag-inspired Nike logo and the words “Never Forget” printed on the heel, according to photographs posted on Williamson’s verified Twitter account.
But that would violate NFL rules, which stipulate each player’s shoes must be either black or white, with team colors serving as allowable dominant or secondary colors on the shoes.
And let’s not forget the league’s rebuke to the Dallas Cowboys for their attempt to honor five police officers who lost their lives protecting Black Lives Matter protesters, too. These efforts did include uniforms, which complicates matters because of standing rules on consistency in on-field presentation, but that seems like a much less important issue than alienating millions of fans for the sake of a passing fad. The inconsistency makes it look very much like the league protects free speech and on-field demonstrations not on a equal basis but on a content basis — and that doesn’t respect players, free speech, or diversity at all.