The world has big problems. The fight against the COVID-19 pandemic has overshadowed nearly everything we’re accustomed to. The sports world has come to a screeching halt, from the highest professional leagues to the smallest recreational ones. We have no idea if there will be a Stanley Cup awarded this year, or if the NBA will be able to resume in time to conduct playoffs. Baseball has never felt further away and all the other sports similarly gearing up with the warmer weather — soccer, tennis, golf — are set to pause.
So in that vein let us stop to appreciate the NFL, to be thankful for the distraction football has afforded in these strange, isolated times. It may not be action on the field, but between an open free agent market and an upcoming draft, there is some real football news to follow, to discuss, to dissect and yes, to distract.
And yet I wonder — why does the NFL have to be such jerks about it?
By now you’ve heard of the memo commissioner Roger Goodell sent throughout the league assuring teams the draft would proceed as scheduled April 23-25, advising them to prepare accordingly vis a vis proper telecommuting equipment and work set-ups. The information was both useful and necessary and should give teams plenty of time to get ready to adjust on the fly for what is now going to be a virtual event. Goodell was also mostly right in believing the draft could "serve a very positive purpose for our clubs, our fans, and the country at large,” giving us something routine to hang onto during these otherwise uncertain times.
So why did he feel the need to include this warning at the end of the two-page memo addressed to chief executives, club presidents, general managers and head coaches? "The [Management Council Executive Committee] was also clear, and I share the Committee’s view, that public discussion of issues relating to the Draft serves no useful purpose and is grounds for disciplinary action.”
Grounds for disciplinary action? Seriously?
Talk about killing an ant with a sledgehammer.
Why the need for such a draconian attitude toward public disagreement? Why such tone-deafness at a time when we are all trying, or at least should be trying, to be extra kind to each other? How does Goodell once again manage to separate himself from his fellow professional commissioners in such a ridiculously embarrassing way?
Hey, at least he won’t get booed this year.
We won’t be privy to fan reactions to the draft, not as the NFL has already canceled any public events and declined to bring prospects and their families to a centralized event. Those were all wise decisions, even if it occasionally feels strange for the NFL to continue conducting business (almost) as usual while its fellow leagues are idle. Goodell isn’t wrong in saying, "everyone recognizes that public health conditions are highly uncertain and there is no assurance that we can select a different date and be confident that conditions will be significantly more favorable than they are today.”
In other words, if not now, when? If there is some way to get this conducted now, even with issues of making sure the playing field is level for all teams and even with the sad ramification that smaller school, non-Combine invitees might have a tougher path to cracking the draft boards, then we should do it now. Who knows what the landscape will look like later?
Makes sense, and those are the tough decisions Goodell is paid to make. Or perhaps more accurately, they are the decisions owners pay him $40 million a year to announce. Goodell is nothing if not used to being the public face of scorn for unpopular NFL decisions, from naming himself the original arbiter to Tom Brady’s Deflategate case to handing out a meager two-game initial suspension in Ray Rice’s domestic violence case.
In this case, he appears to be heading off comments like what we heard during the week from the Saints’ Mickey Loomis with NBC’s Peter King, ones that came to light after ESPN reported that the league’s general manager subcommittee was recommending the draft be postponed because there wasn’t enough time to evaluate players.
This is what Loomis said on King’s podcast: “This is not a fantasy draft that you can conduct with just a list of things on a piece of paper. There’s a lot of work that goes into preparing and there’s a lot of work that is done during the draft that, listen, it’ll be very, very difficult to conduct that and do it in a way that you’re doing justice to the process.”
And this is what John Elway said on the team’s website: "We’d rather have it backed up so we can get all our scouts and everybody in, but if it’s limited and we can stay there and they’re not going to move the draft, we’re in good shape.”
That was then. Say that now and risk being disciplined. What a waste of time and energy.