Major League Baseball has supplanted the National Football League as the stick-to-sports centerpiece of the culture wars. The NFL surely isn’t clamoring to regain its crown.
But the new voting-rights legislation in Georgia has created plenty of questions regarding the league’s position. Falcons owner Arthur Blank issued a statement after the new law was signed. On Monday, Commissioner Roger Goodell sent a memo to league employees regarding the situation.
Excerpts were first posted by Mike Jones of USA Today. PFT has since obtained a full copy of the memo from Goodell. It reads, under the salutation “Dear Colleagues,” as follows:
“I know that a number of you have asked questions about the recent Georgia legislation regarding that state’s voting procedures. Other states are considering voting-related legislation as well, and we can expect that these bills will continue to generate commentary and controversy, particularly in our current highly-charged political environment.
“We know that the right to vote is fundamental and at the core of our democracy. We will always support that right and the NFL has done so in a comprehensive and thoughtful way. Together with our players, and so many of you, the NFL and its 32 clubs showed true leadership through our NFL Votes initiative. This program addressed voting in a non-partisan and meaningful way, through voter education, voter registration, and direct support of voting across the country. We held more than 50 educational sessions on voting rights, and across the league, more than 90 percent of our players were registered to vote. Clubs promoted NFL Votes in a variety of ways, including on their own NFL Votes sites, through on-field signage, and by participating in ad campaigns on both traditional and social media. There were more than 400,000 unique visits to NFL and club voting sites. Nearly 160 million people saw one or more of our broadcast spots promoting voting — and even more people were reached through social media. And on election day, tens of thousands of people cast their votes at 16 NFL stadiums, and clubs supported election workers and voters by providing PPE, meals, and transportation.
“Our commitment to the right to vote and to fair and transparent elections is unwavering and NFL Votes was not an initiative for just one election cycle. We will continue this important work in upcoming elections and will actively support voters and the right to vote across the country, just as we did in 2020. And through initiatives like NFL Votes and Inspire Change, we will continue to listen and learn, bring people together, and work to make our communities stronger and more equitable.
“We will also support the work of our clubs and players in local communities, where so many of these issues will be debated and decided. In that respect, I want to share with you the statement that Arthur Blank and the Atlanta Falcons issued regarding the new law in Georgia.”
The memo does not specifically address any of the controversial provisions of the Georgia law. Blank’s statement said simply that “[w]e should be working to make voting easier, not harder” and that the organization has “conveyed that ideal directly to state officials in recent weeks.”
The memo does not address, and the league did not specifically respond to our inquiry regarding, the possibility of future league events (Super Bowl and draft) being staged in Georgia given the new voting-rights law. Reading between the lines, the league’s position seems to be that it won’t take specific action as to Georgia.
If the next Super Bowl or the next draft were due to happen in Georgia, the league would find itself in a much tougher spot. With no items on the docket, the league has refrained from making any broad statements on whether Georgia will be a suitable location moving forward. By the time the question becomes relevant, the national debate quite possibly will have moved on.
Nearly 30 years ago, the NFL removed a Super Bowl from Arizona due to the state’s refusal to make Martin Luther King, Jr. Day a paid holiday. Thus, the league is no stranger to taking a stand that would include not staging league events in a given jurisdiction.
It’s trickier for the league in 2021. Some fans are still complaining about protests during the anthem. The backlash currently being experienced by Major League Baseball undoubtedly would be directed at the NFL, if the NFL were to take a firm stand on the Georgia voting law.
Eventually, any effort to exclude Georgia from NFL events would open the door to the boomerangs that MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred is now ducking, including for example whether Manfred will drop his membership at Augusta National Golf Club, home of the Masters.
Goodell, like Manfred, is a member at Augusta.