This past weekend saw the U.S. National Football League engaged in broken-field running as it struggled to address the growing rancor over protests in relation to the national anthem. Individual teams and individual players reacted variously, often without fully considering all the consequences of their actions or inactions. The news media is having a feeding frenzy at the concession stand, while the reputations and likely the revenues of the teams and league are at stake.
The league has been baited into playing in other peoples’ games. Moreover, the rules and goals of those games are unclear. When the rules are unclear, it is easy to draw a penalty flag, even when you are trying to do the right thing. It is perilously easy to step out of bounds.
So what should the NFL or an individual team or an individual player do when faced with this circumstance? First, stop being distracted by all the noise, clutter and confusion. Second, drop back and look at the field. Think about where you are and what you stand for. When you take these two steps, the situation becomes much clearer and you can begin to sort out what to do next.
Consider what you stand for. What are your values? Most people—players, coaches, management, fans—actually agree on a broad set of values: respect for the ideals of America; freedom of speech; equality; the value of diversity; fairness; justice. These values constitute a firm foundation for what you say and what you do. It’s not complicated. If there are people in the organization who object to any of these values, that is a separate issue to be dealt with separately. Also, how individuals wish to address these values is a legitimate point for discussion, but the core values should be unassailable.
The issues facing the NFL—and the chaos surrounding them—are not going to go away. At all levels of the league, people need to have something to say and they need to back up their statements with actions. The players should create and own the actions. What an opportunity! The country is addressing important issues related to race, fairness and equality. People are talking; people are listening. Grab the ball and run with it.
Ironically, the opportunities that present themselves at this moment in time, ARE America. Freedom of speech will support us if we let it. It’s how America moves forward. Clearly there are important and sensitive issues that need to be discussed and addressed. The opportunity is here, right now!
The NFL is full of college-educated people who are not just strong and fast, but are also caring, thoughtful and articulate. Moreover, along racial lines, the league is highly diverse. This arena is as good a place as any to get moving. So get moving—the field is yours.