Virtual Voices

An open letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell

Sports

Dear Commissioner Goodell,

I feel I must point out to you something that I have been trying to teach my 6-year-old daughter: Covering your eyes may keep you from seeing something, but it doesn't make anything invisible. No matter how much you defend the "safety" of the players, football is not a safe game.

When the news broke that Gregg Williams, the former defensive coordinator for the New Orleans Saints, had been putting monetary bounties on opposing players I was horrified. To pay already-well-paid players extra to knock an opposing player out of a game is atrocious. The fact that the upper levels of the team's coaching staff and management approved this bounty system makes it even worse.

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I am glad you suspended Williams indefinitely and Sean Payton, the head coach, for a full season. They cheated. They sanctioned, condoned, and rewarded malicious play. Their actions risked the careers of other players. They deserved punishment, and I applaud you for your swift and decisive action. But, Mr. Commissioner, suspending those coaches, while it was the right thing to do, isn't enough. It is the covering of your eyes I mentioned earlier. You seem to have convinced yourself that the complex question of "safety" in football is invisible. But we can still see it.

Those coaches rewarded their players for risking the careers of others by acting outside the rules of football. But you and I both know that the very game itself risks the health and careers of players. You can pontificate as much as you like about "caring for the safety of players," but a game that requires behemoth men encased in armor to repeatedly knock each other to the ground with a running start cannot, in any sense, be called "safe."

I truly love football, Mr. Goodell. I grew up scant yards from the Metrodome where the Minnesota Vikings play. I played all the way through high school, but I never fooled myself into thinking I was doing something "safe." My body still feels the effects of those games.

Coaches at all levels, from middle school to the pros, know the goal of the game is the opposite of safety. "Hit 'em in the mouth" they demand. "Make 'em not want to get up again" they exhort.

Mr. Commissioner, we cannot truly care about the safety of football players if we ask them to play at all. Are we willing to give up football? I'm not, so I hope there is a solution, a balance, wherein football can be played with an acceptable level of risk.

I am glad that football has rules to limit the extent of the barbarism. I am glad you have strongly enforced those rules. But the rules do not make the game safe. They make it less unsafe. I ask you to publicly admit to the risks these men take and admit the ethical complexity of defending "player safety." Admit the difficulty of finding the right answers. As a fellow football fan, I beg you to not cover your eyes and pretend the issue is invisible.

A deeply caring fan.

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