DeMaurice Smith: The owners, not Roger Goodell, will make the decision on WFT transparency
The NFL may never release any evidence regarding the Washington Football Team workplace misconduct investigation or the 650,000 emails supposedly sent to and from former WFT president Bruce Allen that fell beyond the scope of the investigation. But that doesn’t mean people will, or should, stop asking.
Appearing on HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel, NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith reiterated his call for transparency regarding the 650,000 emails, and more.
“To be precise, I’m calling on or we’re calling on and I think the country should call on the release of any information within the league’s possession that is evidence of racial animus, sexism, misogyny, bias, homophobia,” Smith told Gumbel.
Although Smith may have legal avenues that he can pursue, the easiest path would be for the NFL to do the right thing and release the 650,000 emails, for starters. Does Smith trust Commissioner Roger Goodell to do the right thing?
“Roger and I have had an interesting relationship over time,” Smith said in response to that specific question. “And there are times when, as you know, he and I have gone at it on behalf of our respective members in brutal fashion, and I make no apology for that at all. . . . While both of us bring a level of skill to our job, there are aspects of our job that require more than just skill. It requires a dedication and a belief to something bigger. . . .”
Gumbel then became more blunt and direct. Does Smith think Goodell has the courage to do the right thing?
“Yes,” Smith said. “Yes. I do. And does that mean the right thing is going to occur? I don’t know. Because the National Football League is less a corporation than it is a feudal, oligarch system. And the decision, the ultimate decision, I believe about what will happen with the direction that this league will take will fall to the 32 [owners] more than it will fall to the decision of the Commissioner.”
That’s an excellent point. Although these matters are being handled at the highest levels of the NFL, Goodell only has so much power over what ultimately will occur. He serves at the will and pleasure of the owners. They hired him. They pay him. They run the show. And he has survived long enough to know when to stand down and let the men behind the curtain pull the levers and press the buttons.
And so the question becomes not whether Goodell will do the right thing or whether he’ll have the courage to do the right thing. The question becomes whether those who run the “feudal, oligarch system” will let him do the right thing.
So far, the league hasn’t done the right thing. As Gumbel noted at one point during the interview, it was the leak of the Jon Gruden emails that prompted his departure as coach of the Raiders. Someone within the broader NFL power structure had those emails for weeks if not months before the leaks of specific messages began.
“That’s a problem,” Smith said regarding the fact that the NFL had these emails long before they became public. “I love football, and I love the game. But we should be aspiring to the best nature of ourselves and in our sport and in our business, and I don’t understand how the critical party of that business can be aware of these emails for so long and do nothing about it.”
He’s right. And I still don’t understand how an issue that could have come to a head well before the start of the season exploded during it, forcing the Raiders to pivot to an interim coach for 11 regular-season games. Aside from the important workplace and cultural issues raised by this entire situation, someone with access to those emails used them to take out Gruden in a way that directly undermined the competitive integrity of the 2021 NFL season.