The NFL is determined to proceed with the 2020 draft as scheduled, starting in 22 days. The Management Council Executive Committee has spoken loudly and clearly. The Commissioner has spoken loudly and clearly.
And the Commissioner had made it loud and clear that anyone from within the league who questions the decision will pay the price.
For years, Adam Schefter’s paycheck was signed by Goodell. Since 2009, Schefter has been employed by ESPN. And that gives him the freedom, in theory, to speak his mind without getting in direct trouble with Goodell. (Although there’s a chance someone at ESPN heard from Goodell today.)
“The draft is happening only through the sheer force and determination and lack of foresight from the NFL, frankly,” Schefter said on Tuesday night while appearing on ESPN’s SportsCenter. “They are determined to put this on while there is carnage in the streets.”
Point taken, but here’s the counter: As thousands deal with the extreme, severe, and in way too many cases fatal effects of COVID-19, millions contend with the day-to-day drudgery of existing in a warped reality of every day being the same 6:00-a.m.-I-Got-You-Babe as the last, with nowhere to go, a relatively small range of things to do, and no end in sight.
The draft will give millions of football fans something positive to anticipate, balancing out the dread of a mushrooming tally of lives claimed by the coronavirus and a mountain of worries regarding the full extent of the damage this will cause. The draft will give millions of football fans a shared mutual experience for three days in April, at a time when the never-ending crush of bad news will make a respite from it even more important to the collective mental health of those who have yet to be affected by the virus personally.
There was an optics problem, in my view, with conducting free agency in the early days of the real-life Upside Down, as millions began to come to grips with lost jobs and revenue and real fears of potential illness or death. That didn’t stop the NFL from proceeding.
It became crystal clear last week, even before Goodell’s memo to all teams, that any effort to delay the draft would be similarly unsuccessful. And, again, there’s a plausible argument to be made that the draft can actually do some good for those who are confined to their homes for weeks if not months, not to mention the incoming players who otherwise would be in limbo.
All that said, Schefter was brave to take a stand, even if he took that stand not long after suggesting that the 2020 draft should be a full-week, one-round-per-night affair. He works for one of the networks that will be televising the draft, and he’ll be on the air throughout the three days of draft coverage. It’s also a network that has a billion-dollar partnership with the league — and that is believed by many to be on the brink, via its parent company, of expanding that partnership from Monday night to Thursday night and more.