To quote the famous line from the movie “Cool Hand Luke”: What we have here is a failure to communicate.
At least the NFL apparently didn’t communicate what it meant in the infamous memo from Roger Goodell last Tuesday that gave everyone the impression he had a plan to ask the owners to vote Tuesday, Oct. 17, to mandate the players stand for the national anthem.
The Huffington Post summarized the impression the memo gave with a headline, “NFL kneels to Trump.’’
The impression was that the NFL was caving to Donald Trump, who has called the players to be fired for kneeling during the anthem.
The NFL started to backtrack last Wednesday, when Goodell reached out to NFLPA head De Smith and they issued a joint statement saying Smith and some of the player leaders would also attend the meeting.
And on a conference call Friday, NFL PR chief Joe Lockhart said the memo was misinterpreted.
He said they don’t have a proposal that changes their policy and added, “We don’t have a proposal that mandates anything.’’
When Lockhart was asked if the memo should have been clearer if it was misinterpreted, he said it was clear to him.
Which either means that Lockhart is in denial or trying to put a spin on it. It’s also annoying that the NFL puts out a confusing memo and blames the media for misinterpreting it.
Let’s hope the league learns a lesson from this fiasco and becomes clearer and more precise when it issues a memo or makes a statement.
One problem the league has to acknowledge is that despite what Trump says, it isn’t at all clear if it would be legal for owners to force the players to stand.
Workplace free speech can be limited, but it is uncertain what the courts would rule in this case if a lawsuit were brought. And the players would likely sue if the owners tried to force them to stand.
Lockhart also said, “Everyone is frustrated we are not talking about underlying issues that the players put on the table.’’
That was a good point. The players aren’t protesting the anthem, as they keep pointing out. They are protesting racial inequality and police brutality towards black men.
But Goodell didn’t address any of those underlying issues in his memo.
Lockhart also said they’ve had unprecedented communication with the players.
So where does that leave us now? All we can say for sure is that the owners and the players will have a lot of discussions on Tuesday.
And we will have to wait until next week to see what happens.
As Richard Nixon‘s attorney general John Mitchell once said, “Watch what we do, not what we say.’’
Don’t worry, NFL: We will definitely be watching what you do.