Roger Goodell isn’t fooling anyone. After releasing their initial statement regarding Brian Flores’ racial discrimination lawsuit against the league that stated they would “defend against these claims, which are without merit” and that “diversity is core to everything we do,” the NFL has conveniently leaked a new memo admonishing the league’s teams for their lack of commitment to diversity. Well, it’s pretty clear to just about everyone that these claims do have merit and thus diversity is not, in fact, core to everything the NFL does, and that this memo was a clear attempt to walk back the original statement.
Whether that statement was a knee-jerk, “get something out quick” reaction or an ill-thought-out attempt to calm the waters, it was a bad look for Goodell and the NFL, particularly in the current head coaching hiring cycle, which has seen opening after opening go to white coaches.
The NFL is never really scrambling — they simply have too much of a hold on the American public and too much money to really panic — but this might be as close as they get to it. With new revelations about Dan Snyder and the Washington investigation coming out this week that don’t look great for the league, this response was not particularly well-received by the public. Instead of issuing a public apology or revision, though, Goodell sent out a memo to the teams that was “leaked” to the press.
The memo reads, in part:
We have made significant efforts to promote diversity and adopted numerous policies and programs which have produced positive change in many areas, however we must acknowledge that particularly with respect to head coaches the results have been unacceptable. We will reevaluate and examine all policies, guidelines and initiatives relating to diversity, equity and inclusions.
So, yeah, an obvious PR move. The release to the teams rather than the public just screams “See? We’re doing stuff behind the scenes that you might not even know about!” The concept that this memo wasn’t meant to be made public is absolutely laughable, and by sending this out to the teams rather than issuing a statement to the public, Goodell removes any accountability from himself and the central office. He makes it the teams’ problem — which, no doubt, it is — but by admonishing the teams making the hiring decisions and telling them that they’re not living up to the NFL’s diversity and inclusion standards, he places the full blame and responsibility for the problem on individual teams.
It seems like the tack they’re taking is to stick with the individualism argument throughout this process and continue to refuse to acknowledge the systemic issue at play here, thus absolving the organization as a whole. The owners can take care of themselves — they are, after all, billionaires.
Flores’ attorneys said in a response that “the statement made today by the Commissioner is, on the surface, a positive first step, but we suspect that this is more of a public relations ploy than real commitment to change.” No kidding. With this on top of the revelation that Goodell was lying about the reason that he wouldn’t release the Washington report, it seems like he’s taking every possible misstep.
The smooth-over method might not work this time, though. Flores is serious about this lawsuit, Congress is closing in, and the NFL may soon find itself in the exceedingly rare situation of actually facing a threat to the current form it has built for itself.