Ratto: Naming and shaming The Invisibles

NFL owners need to back their words with their names

Ray Ratto
June 05, 2020 - 9:09 am

The National Football League issued another styrofoam-based statement about its commitment to change Thursday night, and accompanied it with a donation out of petty cash to amorphous funds that, while nominally helpful, is almost beside the point now. The nation is on fire, and the league already played its hand four years ago by stepping on Colin Kaepernick and prohibiting protests against a symbol that increasingly represents a failing societal system.

In other words, the statement falls short of being empty words because they only remind us what the league did when it could have worked for something noble. It played for the short money instead and told the nation that it would keep its herd in line publicly.

Well, that didn't work. They are revealed and exposed except that they're not. Not really.

While we dance on Drew Brees' apologies, we cannot ignore what led to them. Not just George Floyd, who is only the new famous name in a litany of victims, but all that led to him and continues too often in too many places today.

But part of the problem is that the "they" still get to hide behind an anonymity their actions no longer support. Not only do the 31 team owners hide almost without exception behind The Shield when having to answer for their past failures, they don't even have to put their names on the new statement that is both a denial of past culpability and a refusal to stand with the players who told them four years ago that today was coming before they would know it.

So maybe it's time we start autocorrecting the NFL into the name of your local team's owner, and let them take specific public responsibility for what they did and didn't do when they had the chance as well as the moral obligation to speak out and lead. Maybe instead of "the NFL," we should toss out Jed York's name specifically, or if you are a Raider fan, that of Mark Davis. Or Stan Kroenke (Rams) or Dean Spanos (Chargers) or Mike Bidwill (Cardinals) or Jerry Jones (Cowboys) or Clark Hunt (Chiefs) or…  well, you get the point.

Even in Carolina, where David Tepper bought the Panthers after the Kaepernick times, or Seattle or New Orleans or Denver or Houston, where the original owners have passed and been replaced by their wives or children, the message endures. The 31 owners either applauded the message, signed off on it or objected but went along without putting their names on the decision, and now they've tried to walk it back without putting their names on the thing they're walking back.

So Bob Kraft (New England) and Arthur Blank (Atlanta) and Amy Adams Strunk (Tennessee) and Steve Ross (Miami) and the Glazers, at least Bryan and Joel (Tampa Bay) and Shahid Khan (Jacksonville) and Dan Snyder (Washington) and Steve Bisciotti (Baltimore) and Jeff Lurie (Philadelphia), they're in this too. It doesn't matter if they led the movement to punish the players and smother their right to speak out about what is now revoltingly clear or just watched and raised their hands when it came time to vote.

It doesn't even matter if they opposed the idea publicly (as was the case most notably with Zygi Wilf in Minnesota) but chose to go along out of convenience. They chose not to listen to their players and non-white people across America because the noise was drowned out by the soft breezy whispers that come from rising up the Forbes billionaires list.

Maybe if they want to be taken more seriously by their players and the audience at large, they should put their names on what many of them chose to do four years ago and then put their names on the changes they say they want to introduce now. John Mara and Steve Tisch (New York Giants) and Woody and Christopher Johnson (New York Mets) and Terry and Kim Pegula (Buffalo) and Art Rooney, Jr. (Pittsburgh) and Jimmy and Dee Haslam (Cleveland) and Mike Brown (Cincinnati) and Jim Irsay (Indianapolis) and Martha Ford (Detroit) and Zygi, Mark and Leonard Wilf (Minnesota) and Virginia McCaskey (Chicago) and even Mark Murphy, who runs the Green Bay Packers even though the team is technically community-owned.

Silence has failed. Capitulation has failed. Hiding behind the flag or giving in to Donald Trump's invective, all of it has failed. If the NFL wants to do the we're-with-you-even-though-we-weren't-when-you-needed-us statement dance at this late stage, it has to back those words with its work, and with its names. All companies are people making decisions. So let's name the people and attach their actions to those names, whether they help or horrify. Ending corporate anonymity may not do a lot in the larger view but if the light helps people make better decisions, well, the switch is right there within reach.

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