Column: Goodell, NFL can’t dawdle on NFL anthem controversy


By George Diaz - Orlando Sentinel



ORLANDO, Fla. (McClatchy) — Imagine the NFL national-anthem controversy is a football in the hands of Commissioner Roger Goodell. Now imagine Goodell taking that football and punting it across the fancy hallways of the Ritz-Carlton in Orlando.

A nice big, fancy spiral that goes about 40 yards before it plops down on the carpet.

That’s where the league stands on a volatile issue that has played out in various contentious ways, from President Trump’s Twitter account to discussion about sagging ratings and attendance to players looking for clarity on proper protocol.

The upshot is that the league meetings this week produced no substantive dialogue, which pushes the agenda into May during spring league meetings in Atlanta that begin May 21.

“That’s something that ownership and I will continue to discuss and focus on as we feel is needed,” Goodell said during a press conference Wednesday afternoon.

Goodell praised the $90 million seven-year social-justice initiative approved unanimously by all 32 teams but put the breaks on any social issues beyond that.

The nothing-burger item on the menu this week leaves the league in crosshairs. Is there a way to reconcile the fact that some owners and fans don’t feel that a game is suitable grounds for social protest while some players and fans look at it as precisely the proper venue for peaceful protest?

The launching point originated with Colin Kaepernick kneeling before games during the 2016 season when he played for the San Francisco 49ers, prompting other players to follow suit.

Kaepernick quickly became one of the most polarizing athletes of our generation and has been out of work since the 2017 season.

The national-anthem controversy escalated big-time last September when Trump tore into the league with an incendiary speech during a rally in Alabama.

“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired. He’s fired!’ ” Trump said.

That triggered widespread protests from NFL players and a number of NFL owners like Shahid Khan of the Jacksonville Jaguars, who linked arms to show solidarity.

The political ping-pong ball has continued bouncing since then, with plenty of opinions floating around from fans to commentators to players.

Consensus: Figure something out. Soon.

“I don’t know if I have the right solution, but I think whatever the solution is, it needs to be one that is league-wide,” Detroit Lions president Rod Wood said earlier this week. “I think some of the things that I got uncomfortable with last year was trying to manage it at the team level and do it 32 different ways after the Trump incident that got everybody kind of fired up about it.

“I really think that we need to kind of step back, like everything else we do, and kind of do it at the league level, whatever that is, and get it resolved and move on.”

Goodell would be remiss to punt on this issue beyond May. Everybody needs clarity. Understand that the issue is so contentious that you will lose fans either way. Understand that if you push too hard on players, liberal fans will shun you. Understand that if you give them some leeway in terms of social activism, Trump is likely to torch you on Twitter.

“My focus is almost entirely on listening to players, understanding better what they were protesting,” Goodell said Wednesday. “We now understand that much better and have a deeper knowledge from our players as well as others in the community.”

Gotcha, even though you pretty said nothing about anything.

Now, please, take a stand about taking a stand, Commissioner.

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By George Diaz

Orlando Sentinel