By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The world is currently in the middle of fighting a pandemic. Most businesses in North America have come to a grinding halt, as stay-at-home orders, self-quarantines and social distancing have become the most important parts of our daily lives.
Everyone is concerned with stopping the spread of the coronavirus. Many families are concerned with paying rent and buying groceries.
Roger Goodell, though, is concerned with any NFL employees who dare criticize his decision to hold the NFL draft as if nothing else is going on in the world.
Reports broke Thursday night that the NFL commissioner sent a letter to teams that stated the draft will indeed be held as scheduled April 23-25. Earlier this week, news had leaked that the general managers subcommittee voted (either unanimously or by a 6-1 margin) to recommend to the league that the draft be delayed, due to numerous factors that will make the draft process difficult for every team and might lead to some competitive disadvantages to some teams in certain areas where the virus has hit the hardest. That news broke the same day that numerous coaches and front office executives expressed serious doubt that the NFL can start its season on time. Such opinions continued to leak out on Thursday, when Ravens president Dick Cass said he does not believe OTAs will be held this spring.
But Goodell cares little for such suggestions, and he’s even taken the next step to threaten anyone who makes any such complaints.
NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero posted a copy of the letter that Goodell sent to teams. In that letter, Goodell issued the following warning:
“The [chief 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.”
Fresh off the narrow passage of the latest CBA, it’s clear that Goodell is putting his bolstered power to immediate use.
The message is, of course, beyond tone-deaf, despite Goodell’s insistence that the vote from members of the NFL Management Council Executive Committee was “unanimous and unequivocal.” In a truly unprecedented situation for every living American, and in a time when all professional sports leagues are on hold, Goodell’s insistence on holding the draft is one thing. Forbidding anyone from expressing a dissenting opinion is downright appalling.
On the one hand, Goodell is correct in noting that delaying the draft to a later date would do nothing to ensure that conditions in the country have improved. A postponement until May, for example, may end up being a worse time. So there is some sense in the commissioner assessing the situation, noting the difficulties facing teams at the current time, and determining that all things considered, the draft can still be held.
On the other hand, Thursday marked the day that the United States passed Italy and China to become the country with the most known coronavirus cases in the world. The number of positive tests and deaths continues to grow, and experts anticipate those numbers will continue to do in the coming days and weeks.
Stating on March 26 that holding a football draft on April 23 is absolutely the correct course is something that can not be done with any knowledge or confidence. Acting as though it can be done works only to reveal either unrelenting hope or blistering arrogance.
It’s also quite another thing entirely to suggest that the holding of the NFL draft ” can serve a very positive purpose for our clubs, our fans and the country at large,” as Goodell did in the letter. Anyone who’s been laid off or has had the virus hit their family directly surely won’t be lifted because a cornerback out of Auburn was drafted in the fifth round by the Detroit Lions.
And threatening punishment for anyone who disagrees? Well that’s just the cherry on top of the totalitarian way which Goodell chooses to run his sports league.
One coach told me that Goodell “is trying to silence critics.” The coach added more people in league want draft postponement than want draft to proceed as scheduled. https://t.co/aPmYYn8G3R
— mike freeman (@mikefreemanNFL) March 27, 2020
The NHL — which shut down on March 12 and may not resume its season or hold its postseason — has already canceled its draft, which had been scheduled for late June. Major League Baseball has discussed postponing its draft, which also is scheduled for June. MLB doesn’t know if it will have a season at all this year. The NBA — which has had numerous players test positive for the disease — has gone dark and likewise does not know when its doors will open again.
The entirety of professional sports in North America has accepted the fact that at this point in history, the games and the business behind those games have to take a back seat.
But not the NFL.
Free agency opened as scheduled, despite the hurdle of players getting physicals, and despite the travel limitations. And now the draft is full speed ahead, too.
The bottom line is that the NFL draft will go on as scheduled in late April. Some people will think it’s a fine idea. Others won’t. Acting like there’s only one correct viewpoint on the matter says everything that could ever be said about Roger Goodell.