Commissioner Roger Goodell embarked last month on a tour of NFL training camps. With a lockout possibly (or possibly probably) looming, it made good sense to make the rounds, shake hands with fans, and slap backs with players. Unlike every other sports commissioner, Goodell has mastered the ability to communicate with fans a a fan and with players as a peer, even though Goodell’s own football career ended at Washington & Jefferson College in Washington, Pennsylvania (a town known to those of us who grew up 30 miles away in the Northern Panhandle of West Virginia as “Little Washington”).
In Indianapolis, Goodell likely felt more like Custer than the general after whom his college was named, given the reception Goodell received from a couple Colts players. Michael Silver of Yahoo! Sports reports, citing two unnamed sources, some Colts players “admonished Goodell with swear words.” Center Jeff Saturday, a member of the NFLPA Executive Committee, reportedly cut the meeting short to prevent further escalation.
Apparently, the acrimony arose because Goodell couldn’t answer many of the questions that the players were posing. As Silver reports, Browns linebacker Scott Fujita asked Goodell questions like, “What do the owners want? What’s it going to take to get a deal done?” And Fujita didn’t like it when he didn’t get an answer.
“You’re the NFL Commissioner,” Fujita reportedly said. “You’re here as the
mouthpiece for the owners, and you can’t even tell us what they want?
The CBA is up in March. Don’t you
think you need to start giving us some answers?”
Though Goodell had to have known that one or more players would try to get into topics that Goodell simply can’t address beyond the confines of formal negotiating session, Fujita should have known as a member of the Executive Committee not to ask blunt questions that get to the bottom line of the labor dispute. What did Fujita expect him to say?
In hindsight, it would have been better to not open the floor for questions at all, explaining from the outset that, given the current issues between labor and management, the best approach for the players is to present questions to the union’s representatives. The problem, however, is that Goodell or someone else in the league office thought that a Belichick-style answer without an answer would suffice.
And, obviously, it didn’t.