NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was made the interlocutor of inconvenient subject matter last Wednesday during a speaking engagement at the annual Carl Blythe Lecture for UNC Chapel Hill’s department of exercise and sports science. A local news anchor asked Goodell to address a story published in ESPN The Magazine just one day earlier in which an unnamed Hall of Fame player who speaks regularly with the commissioner made some grim admissions regarding Goodell’s concern for player safety and the possibility of a fatal injury occurring during a game.
“He’s terrified of it,” said the player, who remains anonymous to all but writer Don Van Natta Jr. “It wouldn’t just be a tragedy. It would be awfully bad for business.”
Any guess how master of guile as proficient Goodell might have responded to the inquiry made by the Chapel Hill news anchor?
Yup, you nailed it. Total repudiation.
Nobody should be surprised, given that Goodell’s main objective as promoter and despot of the NFL has been to expand the league and grow its revenue to $25 billion by 2027. One of the obstacles standing in his way is an impending lawsuit representing the interests of over 4,000 retired pro-football players who are currently asking for billions from the NFL. The lawsuit alleges that league officials had concealed information about concussions for decades.
The story in ESPN The Magazine highlights the multitude of player safety headaches the league is currently dealing with, all prefaced by years of obfuscation by the NFL front office and a refusal to acknowledge a link between playing football and cognitive depletion. It may simply be a bad time for the commissioner of the NFL to admit that he’s afraid a player will die during gridiron combat.
Whether or not Goodell actually had such a conversation, the truth of the matter is that he is terrified. He wouldn’t be the right man for his position if he wasn’t.
There is an unmentioned anxiety that the commissioner surely carries throughout the NFL season, just as David Stern, Gary Bettman and Bud Selig all bear as commissioners of major American sports.
The possibility of serious injury has always been there, whether or not we like to admit it.
It’s been a week now since a professional hockey player in Switzerland was left paralyzed after he was pushed from behind and sent head-first into the boards during a play that seems to happen all too frequently in the NHL.
In the MLB, Diamondbacks pitcher Brandon McCarthy has returned to action after suffering a skull fracture, brain contusion and epidural hemorrhage resulting from a frozen rope off the bat of Erick Aybar last fall.
The crisis of compromised safety in sports is lucid and frightening. Let’s all hope that it doesn’t take a tragedy for those in command to fully realize the exigent need to impose progressive safety measures.