This morning I received a letter from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. I'll admit that it felt pretty good to get a personal letter from the most powerful man in sports.
Unfortunately, that feeling left almost instantaneously as I started reading what I'm guessing Goodell meant to be an apology to NFL fans everywhere. Well, Mr. Goodell, here is my reply:
To NFL Fans:
The National Football League is at its best when the focus is on the players and the action on the field, not on labor negotiations.
If this is really the case, then why have we had back-to-back seasons with crucial members of the NFL not being on the field when they should have been? Why did you allow players to miss the majority of training camp last season and three weeks of meaningful games to pass this year before getting these issues figured out?
Now, I'm no lawyer, but I did do some peer mediating during grade school, so I understand the difficulties attached to both sides coming to an agreement. The truth is that if you, Mr. Goodell, would have really wanted the real referees back on the field to start the season, you would have made it happen.
All of us who love the sport appreciate the skills and dedication of the players and coaches. That is why we are focused not just on what happens on the field but what our game will be like in another decade or two. The NFL has always tried to look ahead, to innovate, and to constantly improve in all we do.
Can anyone tell me what this has to do with keeping the referees off the field for three weeks? And to be honest, how much more can the NFL innovate the game of football?
If Mr. Goodell was really interested in the game of football for the "next decade or two," he would have never allowed replacement officials on the field. He would have never let officials that weren't good enough for the Lingerie League to potentially harm the players that will be carrying this game for the next decade.
We recognize that some decisions may be difficult to accept in the passion of the moment, but my most important responsibility is to improve the game for this generation and the next.
You know what was difficult for me to accept? The fact that the NFL's greed cost the Green Bay Packers a victory. What does that difficulty have to do with improving the game for the next few generations?
I believe in accountability, not excuses. And I regret we were not able to secure an agreement sooner in the process and avoid the unfortunate distractions to the game. You deserve better.
You're right, Mr. Goodell, I do deserve better. And you know what? You are the one that kept me from getting the absolute best, which is what I expect and deserve from the NFL.
As a lifelong fan, this wasn't an easy process for anyone involved. I particularly want to commend the replacement officials for taking on an unenviable task and doing it with focus and dedication in the most adverse of circumstances.
Seriously? You're seriously going to commend the replacement officials?
Can I ask for specifics on this commendation? Are you going to print out certificates from Microsoft Word on a job well done? Because to be honest, that is all they deserve.
Our new agreement gives long-term stability to an important aspect of our game, officiating. More important, with this agreement, officiating will be better in the long run. While the financial issues received the most attention, these negotiations were much more about long-term reforms. For example, beginning with the 2013 season, the NFL will have the option of hiring a number of officials on a full-time basis to work year-round, including on the field. In addition, the NFL will have the option to retain additional officials for training and development purposes, and may assign those additional officials to work NFL games.
Once again, I'm not lawyer, but couldn't these issues have been worked out last year? Are you really trying to tell me that it took seven weeks of preseason and regular-season games to decide to hire officials on a full-time basis?
None of these examples of long-term reforms seem like anything more than a lame excuse to cover up the real reason: greed.
We are moving forward with the finest officials in sports back on the field. It's time to put the focus where it belongs – on the clubs and players and our magnificent game, with a special thanks to our fans for their passion.
I'll be honest, Mr. Goodell. It's going to be hard putting my focus back on where you say it belongs. Despite the season only being three weeks through, I feel like I've already lost. I feel like you used me in order to get what you wanted.
An "I'm sorry" would have been nice, but even those two words seem too difficult for you to say.
As awesome as it was to have the real NFL officials back on Thursday night and to see them get a standing ovation, it left me with one question: When will you, Mr. Goodell, ever get a standing ovation from the fans of the sport you control?