The hypocrisy of “player safety” in a violent sport

Oh, Roger Goodell.

You say you’re concerned about player safety. I think you’re concerned mostly about your own image.

Let’s back up to the 2012 offseason. Once the concussion lawsuits started coming in, you realized you had to do something to create the illusion that you cared about player safety. So when you got wind that Gregg Williams was running a hits-for-pay program, you decided to come down as severely as possible on his then-current team, the New Orleans Saints. Never mind that Williams had reportedly run the same kind of programs during his stints in Washington, Buffalo, Tennessee, and Jacksonville. Never mind that then-Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher, who kept Williams by his side for most of his years as Titans head coach, encourages dirty play from his players.

You saw a chance for a PR opportunity and you took it. And you handed out a punishment in a dictatorial fashion that suggested you were not interested in justice. You wouldn’t let the accused see the evidence against them. You leaked bits and pieces of evidence to “prove” your case even when that evidence was immediately discredited. Your case was so flimsy that the appeals arbitrator— your predecessor, whose law firm represents you in the concussion lawsuits and so has every incentive to rule in your favor– threw out all the punishments you handed to players.

You did all this for your own image. You did it to “prove” you care about player safety. You did it to prove you care about player safety just enough to possibly avoid being culpable in a lawsuit.

Flash forward to today: You care about player safety so much, in fact, that at the same time you were paying lip service to player safety, you were pitching an expansion of the regular season to 18 games (and still are). You care about player safety so much that you’re more interested in handing out big fines for legal hits that merely look bad than you are in doing any sort of research into how equipment changes might reduce the chances of brain injury for players. You care so much that you let the NFL run promote highlights of big, concussion-delivering hits on their website, at the same time you talked out of the other side of your mouth about player safety.

You care about player safety so much that you didn’t notice or care that certain team doctors were engaged in shady practices, or that the league’s own concussion expert had questionable credentials.

Now that actual research is being done into those questionable credentials, in a joint partnership between ESPN’s Outside the Lines and PBS’ Frontline, you pressure ESPN into dropping the partnership.

Now, if you really cared about player safety, why would you quash a project that researches it? Why would you use your media partnership to undermine journalistic work?

I think I know why. It’s because you’re a hypocrite, Mr. Goodell. You don’t care about player safety. You care about two things: Making as much profit for the owners as possible, and your own image. And even if this OTL/Frontline partnership would result in improved player safety, it’s bad for your image, so you put it down.

“You’d rather live in shit than let the world see you work a shovel.” I hope the next commissioner of the NFL has more integrity than you do, Mr. Goodell.

EDIT: ThinkProgress is reporting that ESPN claims to have shut down the partnership with PBS over a “sensational”, “over the top” trailer for the League of Denial documentary. (As opposed to the rational, reasonable programming approach that’s brought us First Take or allows ESPN to essentially manufacture its own stories.) This despite the fact that ESPN president John Skipper viewed the documentary trailer a full eight days before meeting with Roger Goodell, and ESPN only backed out after that meeting. Read the article and make up your own mind.

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