Mike Stilley’s open letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell: It’s time to step down.
Like most rabid fans of the National Football League, I look forward to the next date on the NFL calendar. Pretty much every date, starting with the NFL Draft.
That night, after all the debates on who should be picked where, what teams are willing to move, availability and needs of a team, who are the studs, and who are the sleepers, the draft begins. I’m there watching. The television announcers go silent, and the house announcer rings in the start of something fresh, new, and exciting for the fan, his distinct and energetic voice introduces you, the Commissioner of the NFL, to resounding boos.
In the beginning of your tenure, I was sympathetic for you, believing that boos were generally unwarranted. You said, you wanted to make the game safer, to hold all representing the NFL accountable according to the conduct policy, or to simply “protect the shield”. Like for those who held the position prior to you, constant scrutiny comes with the job. Today the scrutiny is more intense and more magnified, due in part to the abundance of publicly available information every time there is an incident involving NFL players or representatives. It was so much easier when “behind closed doors” was actually the case, wasn’t it?
And so, at every turn we, the fans, have been able to witness your every reaction to each issue that arises, well before these past week’s controversies concerning domestic violence:
The owners and the NFL, who you represent, are being sued by former players for brain injuries and concussion symptoms.
Your reaction: change the rules to reduce the number head to head collisions, and fine heavily. Commendable you say, right? Well, only until it’s reported that the issue of brain trauma has been known for years prior by the NFL, yet it wasn’t addressed until you found yourself defending the league in court and in public.
When one of the most dominant teams of the era, the Patriots, were caught videotaping other teams activities, the general response from not only the Patriots, but also former coaches, was that the practice was certainly not uncommon.
Your reaction: collect as much evidence that this has gone on from the team and sources in question, destroy it, and fine heavily.
When it was brought to your attention that the Saints were using a bounty style system to reward their players for injuring their opponents, the general reaction from players at the time, and former players alike, was that this was also common practice.
Your reaction: widespread suspensions and bannings of players and coaches, and fine heavily.
Never proactive, always reactive. You loved projecting the image of the strong enforcer, the “law and order” commish. On the surface maybe. But you never wanted to – you avoided at all costs – ever taking a hard look at any of these problems under the hood. Talk tough, fine and move on. But don’t change anything.
And what of issues relating to racial slurs? Native Americans for decades now have described to the NFL, and you personally, the numerous and frequent ways several professional sports teams across all sports use Native imagery, sacred regalia, and traditional dress to insult, mock, and use Native Americans as props to your games, most noticeably, and most egregiously, a dictionary defined slur of Natives in the nation’s capital of Washington DC. In a television and radio interview with Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic, when speaking about Riley Cooper aggressively using a racial slur, you said; “..we stand for diversity and inclusion, and I guess comments like that, they are obviously wrong and they’re offensive and unacceptable, there’s no one that feels stronger about that than the NFL..”. Then when asked if that was comparable to Washington’s team name, you responded with; “I don’t see that. You know, Mike, the Redskins, you know, and that name, I grew up as a Redskins fan in Washington DC, you know, that name has always represented pride, heritage, tradition. The things that I think made the Redskins fans so proud of that name, and they have always presented the Redskins in a very positive light..”
Which one is it that you truly believe? That you stand for “diversity and inclusion”, and slurs are “wrong, offensive, and unacceptable” or would you like to repeat how you were a fan of the Washington team as a child, then to repeat your very typical Dan Snyder response of “pride and tradition”, while Natives themselves tell you otherwise? By the way, when you say “they have always presented the Redskins”, who is “they”, and by default “Redskins”?
Yet, you have managed to retain support, from those who pay you to take their stance for them while they do whatever is necessary to win games no matter what the cost, while you scramble to make it look genuine and as pristine as possible. You have managed to use the old salesman’s gimmick of “bait and switch” to deter the common fan who simply wants to use this great game as a release, from looking too far into what they truly don’t want to see, and it should be easy. People would prefer you deceive them into thinking the league they sacrifice multiple hours a week and tons of their hard earned money for, is exactly what you have tried to present. “Look over there, while we handle reality over here, behind closed doors”. The problem is, that door no longer closes the way it used to. The old way.
Now, finally, that door won’t shut, and your proverbial skeletons are coming out in droves, faster than you ever thought you would need to cover for them. This should finally shed enough light on what we all should have noticed before; no matter how well intended you may have been when you had dreams of being Commissioner in your youth, you are not suited for the position you hold. Most will point to the financial success of the NFL as the single most reason for you to retain your position, as the man who moved the league to new heights. I beg to differ, but I’m sure even you would acknowledge that distinction is squarely reserved for your two predecessors, Pete Rozell, and Paul Tagliabue who handed over a $5 billion a year juggernaut.
There is little reason to recap the last few weeks of what should be the back end of your tenure, the entire public, if they have had any interest at all, has had access and full display of the things you have finally reacted to, once again. In fairness, there should be no reason to point out the multiple failures of a man’s work, especially in public, except for the fact that no one holds you accountable, not even yourself, even though you stand at the podium and say otherwise.
While at that podium, trying to convince the same people you have dangled the shiny object to, that it still shines, as long as they allow you to polish it the way you see fit. Making declarations of how “now” you will get it right, how you have asked former FBI Director Robert Muller to investigate you, at which time he will report to the people you say fully support you, how now you’re going to use the power of the league to “help create change” in respect to domestic violence, how now you have sent packets of information on domestic violence to each NFL facility, how now you will enhance programs “then do more”, starting next month with education, and made sure to include that domestic violence occurs everywhere (thanks, Roger) and how you can’t do it by yourselves, and how working in the National Football League is a privilege. During which time you used the same token phrases that you have used to dole out punishments to those who have tarnished the image of the league you so desperately tried to conjure. Phrases such as, “I believe in accountability”, and “our standards and the consequences of falling short”. You were also emphatic about handling the issue of illegal use of alcohol and drugs. Is that going to be the same illegal use of alcohol and drugs policy that you approved to immediately reduce the punishment on just last week? Last week. Intermingling how sorry you were for your failings, and how when we make mistakes, we should be held accountable. Apparently except when it’s you.
Once you were done telling us about all your reactions to the angst of the outside world, you went on to the question and dodge portion of your show, which only emphasized how inept at your position you have become. Ducking and diving every legitimate question posed in the name of moving forward and inability to respond due to pending legal matters.
I did find the combination of two exchanges very enlightening.
During one question you were asked how your own statements regarding Sean Peyton’s suspension that “ignorance was no excuse” may play into this matter and whether you considered resigning, you responded that you had not considered it, that you had a lot of work to do, and that you had been busy the last couple of weeks as you had stated.
Shortly afterwards you were asked if the owners were to vote on your retention, would they keep you? During your response, you mentioned that 20 owners had been there this week for prescheduled meetings, regarding upcoming meetings. Working on the crises at hand, or was it business as usual, the same way it was when Kansas City player Jovan Belcher murdered his then girlfriend then committed suicide in the stadium parking lot, then your decision was business as usual for the following days game at the same stadium?
Ignorance may not be an excuse, but for you, it is certainly bliss. At this point, your hypocrisies are virtually palpable.
Whose accountability is it that you’re alluding to? Whose standards? What consequences?
Never mind that you have lost more than your credibility amongst a good portion of the public, but the players have begun to voice themselves more frequently than usual as well. Take Baltimore Raven, Torrey Smith for example who took to Twitter during your press conference to write: “What Roger just said is the exact same thing that players say when they make a mistake and plead their case.”
Now, Outside the Lines on ESPN is reporting that not only was the truth either withheld from you, or the information given to you was false, but that you were also lobbied by Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti, and General Manager Ozzie Newsome to only suspend Ray Rice for two games, which you obviously succumbed to.
At no point, and in no scenario, have you not colossally failed on many levels during this process. Nor have you shown to be proactive in any way towards what should have been an obvious issue. Namely, the 48 times one of your players has been arrested for domestic related issues since your tenure began in September of 2006. Roughly six per year in that span.
Mr. Goodell, what does it say for you, that your biggest hurdle and your most damning nemesis is truth, and the general public’s access to it?
Forty-eight times you had an opportunity to take action, and you stood your ground and allowed the cards to fall where they may. Forty-eight opportunities to be a leader, and you opted to be a spectator to a horrific cycle that has included violence against woman and children. Two that there is no mention of on the list, the aforementioned Javon Belcher, and the late Steve McNair who was also involved in a murder suicide shortly after his retirement, as the first victim, also during your watch.
That does not include the multitude of assaults, DWI and drug charges, weapons violations, and of course murder, and pimping. All of this under one guise, if they can play a role in the success of your machine, no problem, and when they’re arrested, there’s a laundry list of guys willing to take their spots, some with good character, others without, but they need to only fill one criteria; can they ball?
Somewhere between your rare moments of being proactive, and your usual moments of being reactive, you will find yourself somewhere that you’re familiar with, and should voluntarily remain, inactive.
Mr. Goodell, you only have two real options, either you can try to rebuild the shield you have failed to protect, and once again cower behind it, or, you can take credit for the financial gains you have helped make, apologize with some actual contrition to the damage done to the league, and save some face by doing the only remaining noble thing to do; accept your failings with grace, and step aside for an actual leader.
On September 11, 2008 during an NFL.com moderated chat with fans, part of one of your responses was; “Because of the popularity of the game, it is a tremendous responsibility and it is my job to make sure I leave it in a better condition when I move on. But the most important thing is that the success of the league is not about the Commissioner, but it is about our great game.”
Mr. Goodell, it’s time. Please, for the good of the league, make that your final and finally honest statement.
(Photo Credit: Associated Press/Seth Wenig)