All opinions and commentary are solely of Daniel Kotnik
In recent years, the NFL has been under an almost constant siege. Domestic violence and concussion issue have hung around like an ugly gray cloud every Sunday as we watch our games and Deflategate was an elephant parade away from being a full blown circus. There are few examples of things that people would say the NFL has gotten right. However, I would argue that among the many failings of the commissioner’s office, they were finally able to break the streak, get off the snide and get one right.
It’s well known that October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, due in large part to the NFL. Pink creeps into almost every nook and cranny on the players, coaches and officials. Commercials about the importance of doctor visits and examinations replace (some) of the awful DraftKing commercials. While the NFL makes a pretty penny off of it, both in money and in goodwill, it does its job in raising awareness for the disease. So when Panthers RB Deangelo Williams brought the idea up that he wanted to don pink the whole year not just during October, to celebrate his mother who died from cancer, it seemed tone deaf by many by the NFL to say no and pass down fines for it. That came along with similar situations with Steelers DT Cameron Hayward, who wrote his late father’s nickname on his eye black, and his teammate William Gay for wearing purple cleats to bring attention to domestic violence. All of these were punished by fines in accordance with the NFL’s uniform policy and fans along with many in the media were more than willing to jump on the NFL.
And why not? The NFL has become an easy target and the optics of this look bad. A huge multi-million dollar corporation won’t let their employees break the dress code to show support for these noble causes that mean a great deal not just to them but many across the country. They’re fighting for what they believe in, for free speech, for America. How could the NFL do this?
Because they had to.
The NFL, just like any one that is put into a situation of power, has to be the bad guy sometimes. They are doing their job, their due diligence, of not just looking at the short term optics of the situation and are gazing into the future ramifications, which in itself I have to say I am impressed with. It would have been incredibly easy to give into the demands of the mob and allow these exceptions to the rule. It would have cost them nothing and would have given them some much needed positive stories in the media. But what many don’t ask is what would the negative cost down the road be for the NFL?
Let’s say they let Deangelo wear pink all season. Everyone’s happy and things are good. Except when down the line a player wants to support or wear something that is less cut and dry. This all works well when it’s a cause that virtually everyone can support but now a player wants to wear a ribbon to support the pro-life movement. Now a player wants to wear something to support anti-vaccination or maybe even Creationism. You’ve now put the NFL into the position where they are obligated to be the judge of what opinions or causes are worth allowing or not. And with many causes and opinions, there are just as many that oppose it and will be speak out when it looks like such a visible group like the NFL picks one side or the other.
So instead of going down that path, the NFL has chosen to prohibit any personal messages or the like across the board. Yes, it looks bad now and will always look bad when the NFL has to be the “uncool” parent. But these are employees and as is such with every other employer, you sometimes give up rights to free speech. It’s what the NFL has to do and although it may not look like it, the NFL finally got one in the win column here.