As the leader of the free world continues to twist the tail of the NFL, what’s the leader of the football world doing? He’s not doing what he usually does, and that’s probably a good thing.
Commissioner Roger Goodell has ruled the NFL for more than 11 years via convoluted policies, inflexible mandates, and outcome-driven investigations. Rarely (but for the relaxation of the celebration rules) has consensus been a factor in his leadership style. As the league deals with a hot potato coated in plutonium and dusted with smallpox, the Commissioner is treading lightly, for a change.
“The Commissioner plays a leadership role in facilitating conversation between players and owners and coaches,” NFL spokesman Joe Lockhart told reporters during a Thursday media briefing. “He’s been on the line constantly, consistently talking to the various parties. . . . They are all pulling in the same direction but we understand that each locker room is different and there is no one uniform approach that can be dictated by Park Avenue.”
That’s the right approach. Every team will handle the issue differently, and in every locker room it’s critical that the players buy in. They won’t buy in if they feel like they’re being told what to do by Goodell or anyone else; they need to be part of the formulation of the solution, and the solution needs to be something that allows valid concerns to receive the attention they deserve without any impact on or involvement with the national anthem.
The challenge continues to be reaching not one solution but 32, because this issue will go away only if every team comes up with a plan that results in all players standing during the anthem — and that also provides a platform for bringing awareness to the issues that sparked the protests in the first place.