In a Wednesday evening speech masquerading as an interview, Commissioner Roger Goodell said several things about the anthem controversy without saying anything about his plan for making it go away.
Using a stick mic so it would look spontaneous and unscripted (smart money says it was neither), the network owned and operated by the National Football League presented Goodell with a handful of questions that allowed him to recite talking points in a setting different from a memo or a press conference or a Cam Newton-style first-person video.
Ultimately, it seemed to be effort to soften the message that emerged a day earlier, when Goodell’s memo to all teams seemed to indicate that the league would be: (1) giving the players some alternative platform for expressing social concerns; and (2) telling them to stand for the anthem moving forward.
Goodell began by reiterating that the NFL’s current anthem policy has not changed. But he wasn’t asked, and didn’t say, whether the policy could, will, or might change when the league’s owners gather for a quarterly meeting next week. Goodell did say this: “What we’ve had is unprecedented dialogue over the last year with our players, our owners, with community leaders and law enforcement. What we plan to do is have a very in-depth discussion with the players and owners next week to make sure we truly understand the issues and also understand the approach we want to take together with the players to address these issues in our communities.”
The interview with Nate Burleson, a former player and current analyst but not necessarily someone who would be in position to ask tough, probing questions aimed at advancing the story in a meaningful way (due in part to the signature appearing on his paychecks), focused on the work the league has done with players to improve communities, arguably making it part of the olive branch the league will offer to players next week before eventually telling them that they all will be standing for the anthem.
Asked about whether there’s a “sense of urgency” when it comes to getting the situation resolved, Goodell said nothing about resolving the actual situation that has been crying out for resolution since the President called out the league and its players nearly three weeks: “I do think there’s a sense of urgency because we want to get in the communities and make a positive impact. It’s important for us to continue to work together. The urgency that we all feel is continuing the work that we are doing, keeping focused and having a positive outcome for our players, our communities, our teams, our fans and for the leaders in our communities. I believe that urgency is actually beneficial — but this isn’t something that started two weeks ago, this is something that we have been focused on for well over a year. It requires patience and a deeper understanding than we have on a lot of these issues. I know our fans are focused on football, as they should be. We want to get that focus on football. We want to support our players, support our communities, and help make them better.”
That’s fine. But what about the anthem? Goodell said in his Tuesday memo that players should stand for it. That never came up. On Tuesday, NFL spokesman Joe Lockhart hinted that the policy could change next week. That never came up. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has on multiple occasions made it clear that he has been misapplying the current policy to his players, and that he intends to continue to do so. That never came up.
Also omitted was perhaps the most important question, if the policy changes: Will it be mandatory or optional for the teams to enforce it? The 49ers, at a minimum, apparently don’t plan to.
Chances are those questions won’t be answered by Goodell before next week’s ownership meeting. And by the time he does his traditional end-of-meeting press conference, the league likely will have what it hopes to be a permanent resolution to the situation — preferably (from the NFL’s standpoint) with the players fully on board with however the league gets to the point where players will be standing for the anthem.