October 16, 2017

ROLL LEFT AND DIE: Roger Goodell Killed the Goose that Laid the Golden Egg.

In the 1960s, American culture was fracturing along a fault line, with the common man on one side and scorn against his mores and values on the other. The league’s commissioner at the time, Pete Rozelle, chose to take the side of ordinary Americans in the raging culture war, because they were his natural audience. The league sent star players to visit troops in Vietnam and issued rules requiring players to stand upright during the playing of the National Anthem.

In 1967, the NFL produced a film that combined sideline and game footage titled, “They Call It Pro Football.” The film was unapologetically hokey. It was crew cuts and high tops and lots of chain smoking into sideline telephones. With a non-rock, non-folk, non-“what’s happening now” soundtrack, heavy on trumpets and kettle drums. John Facenda, who would come to be called “The Voice of God” for his work with NFL Films, provided the vaulting narration. The production began with the words, “It starts with a whistle and ends with a gun.” There was nothing Radical Chic about it.

The NFL surpassed baseball as America’s pastime with careful branding that conformed to the tastes and sensibilities of middle-class Americans – Nixon’s silent majority. A half century later, Roger Goodell would kill the goose that laid the golden egg.

In August 2016, America was experiencing a polarizing presidential election. San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick sat during the playing of the national anthem, to protest injustice. It was a politically divisive act directed at fans who regard the national anthem as something sacred. The league did not lift a finger to stop him.

Most employers don’t let their workers make controversial political statements to their customers. It is why you do not know your UPS driver’s views on the expansion of NATO. The Constitution does not prohibit private businesses from regulating speech during work.

A savvier commissioner would have reminded Kaepernick that he is being paid millions to wear the logo of the NFL, and the league does not permit players to use its brand to flaunt their personal politics. Instead, Roger Goodell permitted the pregame ceremonies to become the focus of intense political scrutiny, as the media lined up to catalog whether players stood, sat or knelt during the national anthem.

I suppose this is now mandatory: