Dear Mr. Goodell,
My name is Alec Shane. I am a lifelong football fan who grew up in the New England area and thus found myself rooting for the Patriots from a very young age. And as a Patriots fan, I have been blessed in the latter part of my life with the kind of sustained success I never thought possible, and I am doing my very best to enjoy every minute of what I'm quite sure is this once in a lifetime run. As I grow older, so too does my love for professional football, and watching the sport evolve and flourish was, at one point, one of my life's greatest joys.
And it is regarding this latter point that I am reaching out to you today, as I feel that I am in a unique position to have my voice heard and have a platform upon which to contact you as directly as I know how. Writing for Pats Pulpit, the Patriots-centric branch of the immensely popular SBNation blog, has been an absolute joy and privilege over the past several years, a privilege I have every intention of exploiting for as long as there are those willing to read the content I produce. However, Mr. Goodell, I would be lying if I were to state that my love for the NFL is as strong as it ever was and that I had no fear that I will one day find myself disassociating from the sport altogether. I have to admit that, as of late, I find myself enjoying my autumn Sundays less and less with each passing year, despite having the pleasure of supporting one of the league's premier franchises. And as much as it breaks my heart to say it, should this trend continue, I honestly don't know how much longer I will be able to give myself so wholly to this league.
And you, Mr. Goodell, are largely responsible for these sentiments.
I don't want to pretend that I have the slightest clue how to successfully run a multi-billion dollar enterprise. I don't want to pretend that I understand the level of stress, pressure, and incisiveness that it takes to preside over the NFL. Yours is not a job I envy and I have no desire to place myself in your shoes. I know that there is more that goes into being commissioner than I'll ever understand and what I see represents only a fraction of what it takes to ensure that the wheels keep turning. I am aware of all of this, and I know that I am no businessman. I'm simply a guy trying to get by, a guy who values hard work and integrity above all else and who sees professional football as a nice way to unwind and escape from the stress of daily life.
Integrity. I use that word deliberately, Mr. Goodell, as it's one you have used frequently, especially recently, in your tenure as commissioner of the NFL. You have said on multiple occasions that upholding the integrity of the league is your utmost priority and that you will do whatever you have to do to ensure that the shield remains unblemished and the product does not suffer. You have said it so often, Mr. Goodell, that it has become something of a running joke among many social circles.
And I think that therein lies a large portion of the problem.
The way you have used, and spoken about, integrity leads me to believe that your definition of the term differs greatly from that of others. And it is in this incongruity where the crux of the issue lies. There is no denying that you seem to constantly find yourself embroiled in one controversy or another, from matters as trivial as tampering (as most recently tied to the Kansas City Chiefs) to extremely grave ills like domestic violence, child abuse, and player suicides. You have come under heavy fire as of late in regards to your decision making in regards to these issues, and are now at the point where the very root of your power as commissioner is constantly being called into question. In fact, we are now at the point where The NFLPA is hoping to finalize an agreement that strips you of your power over off-the-field player discipline. I can't help but feel that such actions could have easily been avoided under different circumstances and there would be no need for me to compose this letter had you not completely lost the trust of the men you preside over. And at the heart of this mistrust, as I have already mentioned, is that you seem to be approaching the word "integrity" from a completely different angle than many of the individuals you represent.
To a degree, this disparity is understandable; after all, how can you truly define integrity? What does it actually mean? It's a moral debate perhaps best suited for university students majoring in philosophy to tackle in the few years they have left before being thrust into a dismal economic climate with a useless degree and a mountain of debt. Integrity is, in essence, forever tied to the existential notion of morality, and that you and others seem to be quite far apart on what exactly constitutes acting with integrity falls comparatively in line with the very core of human ethics. Thus, it might not behoove you to marry yourself, and your legacy, to such a multifaceted term. Rather, I'd like to suggest that perhaps you shift your focus away from the ambiguity of integrity and instead champion a word that leaves no room for doubt or unclear interpretation.
You'll be hard pressed, Mr. Goodell, to find someone who doesn't value consistency. You'd also be hard pressed to find someone who doesn't understand what it means to be consistent and doesn't appreciate consistency, regardless of the terms to which it is applied. For example, I may vehemently disagree with an individual's political beliefs, but if s/he remains consistent in those beliefs, I will respect them. I may find certain behaviors nonsensical and view them as a waste of time, but if those behaviors are performed consistently, I will accept them as part of societal vernacular. I may have myriad options as to where to get a hamburger here in New York City, but will always find myself returning to the establishment that consistently serves me an excellent meal. The beautiful thing about consistency is that it is binary; we can either know exactly what to expect out of a certain entity or we can't. And if we always get what is expected, if what occurs falls perfectly in line with how past actions played out, it becomes very difficult to find fault with those results regardless of our own personal opinions.
Of course, there are certain elements where I highly value inconsistency; to keep things fresh and expect the unexpected is one of the secrets to an interesting, happy life, in my opinion. By no means would I want to live in a world mired in uniformity and completely without variation. However, one area where I personally feel that consistency is not only vital to sustainability, but also steeped in practicality and fundamental fairness - another term with which I'm sure you have become intimately familiar - is law and discipline. If laws are broken and the punishment for breaking those laws is uniform all across the board, then whether or not I personally agree with those laws don't matter nearly as much. If I can't point to two different people who received fundamentally different treatment for committing the exact same infraction, then it becomes much harder for me to express my dissatisfaction with the way punishment is meted out. I may not agree with the harshness of that punishment, but I will still respect the consistency with which it is enacted. Sadly, our current legal system is rife with inconsistency and there are far too many examples of corruption, greed, and prejudice that has run rampant regarding who pays for their crimes and who doesn't.
Professional football, however, is not the US legal system, despite your best efforts to meld the two as of late. It is a game. It is a child's game played by adults and run by billionaires. There is absolutely no reason, and absolutely no need, to make its rules as complicated, intricate, and corrupt as the laws governing this country. There is no reason, and no need, to be so wildly inconsistent in how you have chosen to punish players, coaches, and franchises for any number of infractions of varying severity. It is this overwhelming unpredictability and almost completely unjustifiable hypocrisy, all somehow performed under the guise of integrity, that is currently marring your tenure and gaining you such rampant unpopularity with the fanbase.
It is also what is causing me to distance myself from one of my life's great passions.
I am as guilty as anybody of accusing you of being nothing more than a corporate pawn, a puppet king whose job is to sate the owners, look the other way while men with the money - including the owner of my beloved Patriots, Mr. Robert Kraft - make immoral choices, and then take the blame and serve as the lightning rod for public vitriol as the revenue continues to pour in. I have called you all of those things and more during those moments where the rabid fan in me takes over and clouds my rational side. But my rational side is thinking clearly today, Mr. Goodell, and it is from this rational side that I am asking, pleading, and imploring you to prove that rabid fan in me wrong by making the simple, yet vital, change in how you have chosen to run this league.
I am asking you to act with consistency.
I know that, as commissioner under a CBA negotiated by the Players Union, you currently have full authority to dole out punishments and discipline as you see fit. I know that you are well within your legal rights and snugly under the umbrella of "fundamental fairness" to use different rubrics when meting out sanctions and penalizing infractions. I'm not writing this letter to make some kind of case that you aren't within your rights to make the decisions you have made throughout your tenure. However, I believe that you'll find the remaining time you have as the leader of the most powerful sports entity on the planet significantly less controversial if you use that power not to do more or less whatever you want at any given juncture, but to establish a concrete set of guidelines for how you dole out punishment, and stick to those guidelines regardless of outside influence or popular opinion. I would even go so far as to say that doing so will make your job infinitely easier; you will be setting precedent for all future discipline and will have ironclad grounds on which to deny appeals, pointing to the unfaltering uniformity of prior actions taken as evidence for your decisions. Consistency will allow you, and allow us, to turn our focus back to the field where it so very much belongs, to cease seeing trivial and ultimately frivolous issues garner national attention, and will further enable us to continue taking the steps that will allow us all to start enjoying football again - not because it's profitable, but because we love it.
I may not agree with everything you do - I can almost guarantee it - but if you do those things consistently, I will gladly accept, and even respect, the choices you make.
I am very aware that you are a busy man, and that your time is extremely valuable, so please accept my sincerest gratitude for reading this letter and taking my stance into consideration. I would very much like to believe that, at the end of the day, we all want the same thing for this sport, and my hope is that you will come to understand that one of the best ways to ensure integrity is to exercise consistency.
Consistency, Mr. Goodell.
Thank you again for your time, and I'll hope to see some positive changes soon.
Contributor, Pats Pulpit