NFL commissioner Roger Goodell struck a note of hope in a letter to league employees, suggesting that the league’s role in providing a diversion during the COVID-19 pandemic is helpful to fans struggling with the burgeoning health crisis.
“While there have been changes to the way we work and some of our plans, we have an unwavering commitment to upholding the NFL’s legacy of unifying and lifting the spirit of America, and bringing out the best in our fans and in our communities around the world,” he wrote. “We are hopefully providing our fans a small but welcomed respite from the critical matters at hand with some exciting football news and optimism about the upcoming season.”
The letter, which was sent Thursday, the same day Saints coach Sean Payton publicly divulged he had tested positive for the coronavirus, thanked NFL employees for their “tireless work and commitment to the NFL, our fans, players, clubs and partners.”
The letter also addressed changes to the league’s business schedule, which include the cancellation of this year’s annual meetings, which were set to take place this week in Palm Beach, Florida, and the cancellation of public activities associated with the draft, set for April 23-25. The draft still will be held on time but no longer will feature the public format in which Goodell interacts with the players after announcing the selections.
Goodell told league employees that he is open to innovative suggestions about how the league can operate more creatively until regular operations resume. The NFL announced last week that players are not permitted to be at team facilities unless they are rehabbing from injuries. Draft-eligible players cannot visit teams out of an abundance of caution because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“You’ll hear more from us in the days and weeks ahead about how we intend to demonstrate that commitment well beyond our fields,” he wrote, “and I hope you’ll share your ideas on how we can do that.”
The Los Angeles Times reported Sunday that the draft likely will be held in a television studio with Goodell announcing the first-round selections, as he traditionally does. Players will not attend the draft, but the event will be televised by ESPN and the NFL Network. Players will be available via Skype and other telecommunications platforms.
Goodell recently completed negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement that ensures labor peace through the 2030 season, calling the labor deal “a transformative CBA with our partners in the NFLPA.”
While the NFL was willing to postpone the start of the new league year and delay free-agent signings because of the pandemic, the players wanted the signing period to begin as scheduled.
In his letter, Goodell credited former Saints special teams ace Steve Gleason, who has battled ALS the last several years but has been an advocate for increased awareness of the degenerative disease, with providing an inspirational message to fans.
“I look no further than one of the NFL’s legendary players — Saints legend and advocate Steve Gleason — to provide us comfort and inspiration,” Goodell wrote. “Steve offered these thoughts in his acceptance speech at his Congressional Gold Medal ceremony which I was honored to attend in January: ‘If we compassionately collaborate to solve problems, our human potential is boundless. If we can work to understand and solve each other’s problems, and each other’s pain compassionately, then, truly, all things are possible.’ ”
Goodell concluded the letter by writing, “We will get through these difficult days together and every one of you should be proud knowing that you have played an important role to help our world emerge stronger and more unified.”