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Player Protests Could Cost NFL Commissioner His Job

Roger Goodell’s contract is in limbo as he fumbles player protests.

Roger Goodell takes questions at his State of the League press conference. Photo by WEBN-TV/Flickr.

For the first time since he was named NFL commissioner in 2006, Roger Goodell appears to be in danger of being shuffled out of the gig.

At the Year Ahead Summit, an annual forum hosted by Bloomberg featuring prominent speakers from politics, entertainment, and technology, Goodell unpacked a few of his thoughts regarding the ongoing police brutality protests conducted by NFL players.

“People come to our stadiums to be entertained and have fun, not to be protested [at],” he said, according to SB Nation.

That’s partially true. The ostensible reason someone might pony up hundreds of dollars to watch the lowly Chicago Bears is for the entertainment value, which is subjective, given the overall subpar quality of NFL play this year. But “to be protested at” frames any athlete who dares speak out against state-sanctioned violence as attacking the fans.

The idea that the players and consumers of NFL are somehow on opposing sides of this culture war isn't new; it's been implied for over a year now. It was one thing to shut down a conversation about civil rights by falsely insisting that NFL players were somehow “disrespecting” the flag, the anthem, military members, and veterans, or some combination thereof, but the suggestion that it’s the fans who are under attack is a startling escalation — even for a commissioner who has always made it clear that he’d prefer it if players didn’t take a knee.

[quote position="full" is_quote="true"]The NFL is a political entity and has been for the entirety of its existence.[/quote]

But Goodell wasn’t finished. He also said, “[G]etting into politics is not something we do.”

“Values aren't necessarily about politics,” he continued. “Values are the way you do things and I think we want to make sure we do things at the highest standards. And I think people expect us to.”

That’s just not true, commissioner. The NFL is a political entity and has been for the entirety of its existence. Boasting its own PAC, the league has spent close to $1.2 million on lobbyists in 2017 alone to nudge elected representatives into behaving the way it would like to on issues ranging from the legality of daily fantasy sports to congressional investigations into player safety. And that’s before we get to the $5.4 million from the public coffers the NFL received between 2011 and 2014 in exchange for all manner of jingoistic, pro-military “paid patriotism,” or the attempts to manipulate and/or kill an NIH study into traumatic brain injuries.

And lest you think the NFL is ideologically consistent, the league in recent weeks announced it was formally backing legislation aimed at reforming the criminal justice system, largely thanks to the efforts of outspoken activist players like Malcolm Jenkins, Michael Bennett, and Anquan Boldin.

On the other end of the spectrum, the NFL is vehemently opposed to an item in the proposed budget that would close off a major tax loophole used to funnel taxpayer dollars toward the construction of new stadiums. What upsets Goodell — in his own particular corporatized, bland language — is the idea that the players might have a political agenda that differs from the league’s (and those of their sponsors, like a chain pizza empire).

If it seems odd that Goodell would float this kind of nonsense at a time when nominally staid voices like “Moneyball” author Michael Lewis and broadcaster Bob Costas are both saying that the NFL’s time is nigh, it shouldn’t. Goodell isn’t trying to placate fans or advertisers or even inadvertently provide ammunition for the attorneys representing Colin Kaepernick. In this instance, Goodell seems to be speaking to an audience of one: Jerry Jones, the Dallas Cowboys owner and the NFL’s not-so-secret power broker.

Jones, still peeved about the potential six-game suspension of his star running back Ezekiel Elliott on domestic violence charges, has set his sights on Goodell. Jones has certainly been open about his position on the protests, and per ESPN, Goodell’s punishment of Elliott so rankled him that he’s been working furiously to stop a promised contract extension for Goodell.

On Wednesday, The New York Times reported that Jones had gone so far as to hire David Boies, a lawyer who was outed for hiring ex-Israeli military officers to spy on those accusing Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault, and is threatening to sue the six members of the NFL’s competition committee, should Goodell be re-upped.

It’s understandable why Goodell might suddenly offer statements that neatly align with Jones’ position, no matter how ridiculous he sounds. After all, playing the fool in public and taking heat off the NFL’s 32 owners have always been the most important components of his job description.

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