Roger Goodell gets a lot of criticism. Some of it is justified, some of it is just a sport in itself. It’s an easy default to blame Goodell for whatever happens in the NFL. And that’s OK. Goodell is paid well to take those bullets.
But it’s hard to deny his role in what has to be viewed as a wildly successful first night of the NFL draft.
Goodell was given some grief for sticking with the NFL draft as scheduled during the coronavirus outbreak. He told NFL personnel he didn’t want to hear any complaining, which was out of character for him and led to more criticism. One unnamed head coach even told ESPN’s Adam Schefter he should be “attacking the league” for the logistics of the draft.
Goodell turned out to be right. And he’s a big reason the draft was memorable, in a good way.
Roger Goodell thought first round was ‘really cool’
Goodell shined on Thursday night. He hit the right notes, joking about the infamous booing he gets at each draft, giving a heartfelt speech before the draft about frontline workers battling the coronavirus, doing a TikTok with Jerry Jeudy and generally keeping the draft moving. If there were any major technical issues, we didn’t see them.
Yes, Goodell had some slips, like saying Las Vegas would be awarded the “2020” draft when he meant 2022. But Goodell did a fine job Thursday night, all things considered.
Goodell, in an interview with NFL.com’s Judy Battista, estimated he sat down only about three times after Joe Burrow was picked first overall by the Cincinnati Bengals. He was signing jerseys that will be auctioned off for coronavirus relief funds, talking to fans who were part of the show virtually, FaceTiming with “almost every player” who was picked in the first round and being a part of the Draft-A-Thon fundraiser. Oh, and he announced all of the picks from his basement.
Goodell told Battista the night “was really cool.”
“It definitely was full steam ahead,” Goodell said. “But you always have your hesitations, your concerns. I know how important this is to the clubs. If we had come out of this where they didn’t have time to make trades or if something operationally went wrong ... but we heard zero of that. People were making a big deal of that, making a big deal of, is it really the right time to do this kind of event.”
In the process, we saw a different side of Goodell. He’s a punching bag most of the time but on Thursday night, in the intimacy of his basement, he was human. He was likable. It might have been his finest hour as NFL commissioner.
Goodell thinks draft ‘struck a chord’
The message from the NFL, which turned out to be the right one, was that the league could acknowledge the serious nature of the global health crisis while also giving people an outlet to take their minds off the world for a few hours.
“People were looking forward to it; it went way beyond interest in football,” Goodell told NFL.com. “It struck a chord with people. I think, I hope, it sounds like we struck the right tone of recognizing health care workers and first responders while keeping the focus on football.”
There will always be criticisms of Goodell and the NFL, and presumably some are still upset they held the draft at all or did so virtually, even though that turned out to be a minor inconvenience at best for teams in the first round.
Hopefully, before long, everything will go back to normal. We’ll be rolling our eyes at the NFL’s self importance, and ripping Goodell for officiating issues, player punishment or pretty much anything that NFL fans want to sound off about. It’s possible that Goodell and the NFL end up making a big misstep when it comes to playing games or canceling them amid the coronavirus pandemic. There’s still a very bumpy road to navigate.
But for one night, even Goodell’s biggest critics have to admit that he did everything right.
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