As the National Football League (NFL) hits the midseason mark, one cannot help but notice the two glaring issues hurting the NFL's ratings: the national anthem protests and domestic abuse by NFL players. The rate of concussions as well as the aftermath several years after one's playing days are over is yet another issue but that has taken a back seat to the two aforementioned controversies.
At the center of both the national anthem protests and domestic abuse debacles are the Dallas Cowboys or supposedly "America's Team" and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. More specifically it's Cowboys owner Jerry Jones versus Goodell. Goodell was offered a contract extension not too long ago but apparently Jones has been preventing that from becoming official. For those who have followed the NFL for a while, it's well known than Jones is one of the more powerful owners of the NFL and some might say is more powerful than Goodell when it comes to getting his way in regards to football matters. Case in point would be the impending six game suspension of Cowboys star running back Ezekiel Elliott for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy related to domestic violence allegations by a former girlfriend in 2016 even though he was never criminally charged. So far, Elliott has won every appeal but the saga continues as the case has reached the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. It seems that a settlement is coming but we shall see.
Meanwhile, Jones has been adamant about his players not kneeling during the national anthem. In fact he has gone on record by saying that his players will stand for the anthem or sit during the game. Goodell, on the other hand, has declared that there would be no policy change on the national anthem which some owners, especially Jones, view as support for the protests. It is no surprise that NFL owners, for the most part, are politically and financially conservative. They are after all multi-billionaires with an overwhelming majority of them in their 70's who happen to be white and male. Some have very close ties to President Trump such as New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft (who also handed a Super Bowl ring to Vladimir Putin several years ago but we won't go there with Russian connections!). These are very powerful and shrewd businessmen who will make decisions that protect their business interests. If supporting the anthem protests hurts their team's revenues, they won't support the protests, including Jones whose fan base are Trump supporters and believe in standing for the anthem. Perhaps the NFL owners who don't support the protests truly believe in standing for the anthem but we will take a cynical view here given the potential amount of money that could be lost with low ratings and sponsorship pullouts.
Of course the anthem protests has been a racially charged issue as it has shined light on police brutality towards African Americans and racial inequality. To make matters more complicated, former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who most of us know is at the heart of the anthem protests unless you have been living in a cave for the past year, has filed a collusion grievance against the NFL. Goodell and several NFL owners will be deposed by having to hand over e-mail and cell phone correspondence with each other. Should anything incriminating towards Goodell come to the surface, most certainly Goodell's days as NFL Commissioner are numbered.
NFL viewership is clearly down due to these hot topic issues of anthem protests and domestic abuse and it's not just women and African Americans who are not watching. It's also those who feel Elliott has done nothing wrong and Goodell is overstepping his boundaries. It's also those who believe you should stand for the anthem. Supporters of both sides of each of these issues have become anti-NFL. In some ways, the divisiveness of American politics has permeated its way to the NFL and arguably has made the NFL more divisive than our country itself. Goodell has done a poor job of handling these issues, especially with Elliott's case reaching the federal court level. If previous NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue had been at the helm during these tumultuous times, he would most likely work out a deal in private so that the NFL stays united. Sports should be a diversion from our daily troubles and when following a sport that so many of us have loved for most of our lives resembles those troubles, we simply won't watch. The NFL needs a leadership change that can act as unifying element so that the issues of anthem protests and domestic abuse stop tearing this sport apart. There is one person who stands out as the prime candidate for that change: Condoleeza Rice.
We will point out the white elephant in the room first. Rice is an African American woman and the major issues plaguing the NFL deal directly with African Americans and women. However, Rice is not just an ideal choice based on her gender and ethnicity. She is also a super intelligent woman. Those who have known her well during her two tenures at Stanford University have claimed that she is the smartest person they have ever met. Let that sink in for a minute. We are talking about freaking Stanford! Smartest person ever! Even two of my graduate school professors (who will go nameless) who are very influential in Stanford administration have sung Rice's praises.
Now, what about Rice's qualifications? Well it so happens that she recently served on the College Football Playoff Committee from 2014 - 2016 and was an inaugural member. Just Google the CFP committee and you will find that Rice has been the only woman to serve on that committee and that the committee is comprised of mainly old, white men, much like the NFL leadership. According to several close sources, Rice was able to hold her own among that group of former jocks so she probably has the right experience and training to handle the role as NFL Commissioner.
Also, according to several close sources, Rice's dream job is NFL Commissioner. If you think about it, she has accomplished a lot in the field of academia by serving as Stanford Provost from 1993 - 1999 and likewise in the field of politics by serving in the Bush administration (a conservative administration) from 2001 - 2009 first as National Security Adviser followed by Secretary of State. Clearly she is very capable of reaching the pinnacle of any career path she pursues and now that she has been involved in football, NFL Commissioner is not out of the question here.
Lastly, Rice is a southern woman who was raised in Alabama. She does not carry the same elitism that you see from other prominent leaders whose upbringing were in major metropolitan areas. My wife and I were fortunate to bump into Rice prior to a Stanford game a few years ago and were impressed with how personable she was in a large crowd of people waiting to get into the stadium. You cannot find any person with the intelligence, the right experience, and the right profile (African America, female, southern, conservative) who can end these calamities that are bringing the NFL down. None of the four major North American sports leagues have ever had a commissioner who was not white and not male. That needs to change but not just for the sake of bringing in a woman of color but for the sake of uniting a sport that used to transcend politics and other divisive issues.