By Suzanne Sparrow Watson
I am a football fanatic. Not just a casual fan, but someone who wears my team’s colors on game day. Mostly I follow college football, but I still watch an NFL game or two on Sundays and I always watch the 49ers. I’ve come a long way in my football knowledge over the years. Then again, I had a long way to go. When I was a Pop Warner cheerleader I came home from a game and my dad asked how it had gone. I replied with great enthusiasm, “Great! We had a lot of fourth downs!”. These days I understand a whole lot more about the game; now it’s the players who have me perplexed. The prima donna behavior, exorbitant salaries and off the field antics all get in the way of me enjoying the game. I’d give anything to see someone score a touchdown and simply toss the ball to the ref. Or, as the great coach Vince Lombardi once exhorted his players, “Act like you’ve been there before”.
So as a more than casual fan, I have followed all of the recent events surrounding the domestic violence and child abuse charges against players. It was with great anticipation that I watched the NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell, hold a press conference to outline what he was going to do to remedy the problem. As he spoke I kept waiting for some action words, like “fire”, “permanently ban” or, as he droned on, “resign”. Nothing. He spent 15 minutes saying nothing. Oh, except when he said he was shocked – shocked! – that women’s shelters and abuse counseling centers are underfunded. If he were any more clueless he’d have to be watered twice a week.
But what really got me slack-jawed was his statement that the NFL was going to work on a policy to address these issues and he hoped to have it in place by the Super Bowl. In February. I was so stunned by that statement that I immediately went online to make sure I’d heard him correctly. I had. FIVE months to come up with one policy.
A number of years ago, when I worked for one of the major banks we entered into what was, at the time, the largest nation-wide bank merger in history. There were eight people from each bank selected from the various business divisions to put together all of the policies for the combined bank. I was selected to represent Human Resources for my employer. For FIVE months we all worked in our various disciplines and met the deadline of the merger date. So while I don’t underestimate all of the constituencies that Mr. Goodell has to satisfy, it is really not that hard to carve out one policy. Most of corporate America has to deal with complicated issues and make decisions that meet the demands of shareholders (team owners), employees (players), and customers (fans) and do it every day. Heck, he could really expedite things by calling Adam Silver, his counterpart in the NBA. Surely they already have a policy in place given all the miscreants in that sport.
So the fact that Mr. Goodell wants to take five months to establish a policy on spouse and child abuse tells me one thing: he doesn’t think it’s important. And then there’s this: October is national Domestic Violence awareness month. But despite Mr. Goodell’s “enlightenment” about the woefully underfunded organizations that support domestic violence victims, the NFL will adorn themselves in pink from their helmets to their jock straps this month to honor Breast Cancer awareness month. There is no doubt breast cancer support is a very worthy cause, but given what the NFL is going through right now and his statements about helping, wouldn’t it be nice to throw a little support to domestic violence support groups? Or was he once again just giving the problem lip service?
It seems to me that if the domestic violence problems within his organization was uppermost on his mind, he would get the right people in a room and tell them to come up with a policy – within weeks. Because as disquieting as this is to us fans, one can only imagine how upsetting it is to the vast majority of NFL players who are good guys. Guys like Larry Fitzgerald of my hometown Arizona Cardinals, who do fabulous work in the community and whose conduct is above reproach. This is what Fitzgerald had to say about the infamous Ray Rice video: “It’s disturbing to say the least. It was really tough to watch that video. The important thing is to just live life right. Do the right thing and you don’t have to worry…”. Are you listening, Mr. Goodell? YOU have had too many fourth downs.