Since Roger Goodell took over as Commissioner of the NFL, the league has continuously disregarded, disrespected and mocked the profession of journalism.
While trying to increase the advertising potential of its own media (but more likely to eliminate any outside threats of honesty or transparency), Roger Goodell seemingly forgot a few things about our country while protecting his precious shield.
He forgot that we live in a democracy.
He forgot that every citizen is granted the freedom of speech.
And most of all, he forgot that journalism is a staple of our country’s identity.
“At a time when the NFL is trying to clean up its image by cracking down on team personnel who have off-field conduct problems, the league also is imposing new — critics say onerous — restrictions on how the independent media cover its players, coaches and teams.” – Michael McCarthy, USA Today
Although relevant again, the USA Today column quoted above was published over seven years ago. That’s long before SpyGate, BountyGate, and long, long before they saw the Ray Rice video.
Prior to the start of the 2007 season (Goodell’s second as NFL commissioner), the league made uncontested efforts to seize greater control over what fans saw, read, and heard about their players.
“The moves represent an unprecedented attempt by the NFL to manage how it’s portrayed to the public. They also could offer a glimpse of where sports programming is headed.”
I caught my first glimpse of this unprecedented management last summer during my first visit to Bears training camp in Bourbonnais, IL. Although giddy about my first NFL credential, skepticism for the league’s lack of transparency quickly began to overshadow my excitement.
Our goal was to head to training camp for two days, and shoot as many interviews and as much footage as possible during the allotted time. We were aware that the video content we produced could be no longer than 90 seconds in length per day.
Planning accordingly, we decided we would publish five consecutive video shorts the following week – covering the progress of Bears training camp under their new head coach, Marc Trestman. Upon looking at their policies more closely, we began to feel foolish for thinking so optimistically about working with the NFL.
But as we learned, there’s really no ‘working with the NFL’ to begin with.
Even if we had landed enough interviews to fill five days of content, any video we posted had to be deleted the very next day. And in their media policy, the Chicago Bears do a great job of hiding this monopolistic guideline:
“Accredited organizations may distribute online non-game audio and video content, including interviews, press conferences and team practices provided that such distribution is 90 seconds maximum per day, may not be “archived” for more than 24 hours…”
So here’s a translation:
“If you are able to get a non-automated response from our media relations department, and by some miracle acquire a practice or game credential, you can only record 90 seconds of video and/or audio per day. Once you finish making the video, please destroy it immediately.”
Unfortunately for us, these guidelines provide a severe advantage for the traditional forms of media. And for start-up publications like us, these ridiculous limitations are detrimental to the creative growth and credibility of our profession.
Eventually, we stopped caring.
But it wasn’t because we gave up, and it wasn’t because we stopped covering the Chicago Bears. We stopped caring because we shortly realized that access to the NFL isn’t a privilege.
“Access” is a laminated piece of paper that they clip to a fancy lanyard before you walk in.
Every answer you hear from an NFL player sounds pre-rehearsed, but that’s only because they are. Beat-writers and network reporters ask the same meaningless questions, because they know that players will give them a thoughtless response.
Everybody gets to go home happy, and Roger Goodell gets to sleep in peace.
But as we learned last January, it’s not just the media that Goodell has silenced.
Thanks to former Minnesota Vikings punter (and now civil-rights activist) Chris Kluwe, the public eye got a peak behind the NFL’s iron curtain.
Kluwe, who had been openly supporting gay rights on Twitter, was conceivably fired for illustrating his unconventional opinion on social matters. The treatment he received from coaches, executives and the team’s owner was simply pathetic. And to some capacity, it was downright unconstitutional.
Chris Kluwe exposed the NFL’s aggressive tactics to not only eliminate freedom of speech from the media, but from their own employees as well.
So maybe, finally, it’s time to stop believing what you hear on the NFL Network. It’s time to stop trusting Roger Goodell. And it’s time to stop giving these elitists the benefit of the doubt.
NFL players aren’t choirboys. They’re not all patriots. And they’re certainly not all saints. Last year alone, there was an alarming amount of NFL arrests outside of your everyday assault and DUI.
Andre Smith and Da’Quan Bowers were both arrested for possession of a weapon… in an airport.
Josh Brent? Well, he failed his drug test for marijuana. Then, he was charged with intoxicated manslaughter after a car crash killed his friend and teammate.
Michael Boley? Child abuse.
Ausar Walcott? Attempted murder.
Aaron Hernandez? Actual murder.
Richie Incognito’s hazing. Riley Cooper’s racism. And who could forget when Nate Burleson crashed his car reaching for pizza? Unless I’m missing something, all of these athletes only have one thing in common: they all work for the National Football League.
Following last season’s NFC Championship, morning headlines were riddled by Richard Sherman’s post-game rant fueled towards 49ers’ wideout Michael Crabtree.
After accomplishing the most significant play in the franchise’s history, Sherman spoke out with raw, honest emotion and as a result – he was unjustly labeled a thug.
But Richard Sherman isn’t a thug; he just works with a lot of them.
He’s played on the same field with people like Ray Rice, a disturbed young man with evident signs of a potentially violent mental illness. But Rice is nothing less, and certainly nothing more, than an immature victim of the NFL’s toxic business environment.
The events that have unfolded in the last few days are too grand in significance to fully comprehend. And sadly, they have little to do with Ray Rice. As evident from the recent cacophony of the league’s impropriety, the NFL won’t be able to hide their ignorance for transparency much longer.
Until Roger Goodell stops being a dictator and starts being a leader, the NFL will continue to disregard the role that journalism plays in the United States.
Our country might enjoy football on Sundays, and we might talk about it on Monday.
But football, in any form, will never replace the importance of truth.
And a bully like Roger Goodell will never change that.