Roger Goodell’s bad timing
This appeared in the Chicago Tribune
The date may only have been Jan. 2, but Monday Night Football may turn out to be the most excruciating hour of broadcast television Americans will see all year.
The fault did not lie with the ESPN broadcasters, who did their best to harness their own emotions and fill an hour of airtime following the on-field collapse of Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin whose heart reportedly stopped, and who received CPR on the field, following a tackle during a game with the Cincinnati Bengals.
They tried to talk on, even saying the same things over and over again with no new information, without unduly exploiting the situation at hand. The issue was the absurd delay in the NFL postponing the game, even while players agonized at a fellow athlete facing a life-or-death situation. The pain on players’ faces was all too visible to the television audience.
On Tuesday morning, it was unclear why sportscaster Joe Buck made repeated reference to the players possibly restarting after a short break of just a few minutes, given that the NFL insisted it was never the league’s intent. And it’s certainly true that sudden, shocking events like this can cause breakdowns in decision-making and communication.
We’d like to think, though, that any scheduling or competitive issues with postponing a pivotal, late-season game did not come into play, given that a young player’s life was hanging in the balance.
Eventually, the famously cautious NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell did the right thing and let the players and fans go home with their minds not on football but on the health of Hamlin, who doctors say had suffered cardiac arrest. On Tuesday, he was reported as being in critical but stable condition.
But given the on-field ambulance and the CPR needed to restore Hamlin’s heartbeat, it sure took Goodell, who makes $63.9 million a year, a long time to turn a game “suspension” into a postponement, amplifying the emotional distress not just of a stadium full of fans and players but an entire nation watching on television and catching on far quicker than the NFL bosses that, when health is on the line in their dangerous game, football must be nothing more than an afterthought.
Instead of letting ESPN squirm in a vacuum, Goodell should have been personally on camera as quickly as possible, making that very point and turning everyone’s minds to a talented young man who clearly was fighting for his life.