Why am I writing just now about NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s state-of-the-game speech, which took place last month?
Because it took me a few weeks to realize how mad I am at Goodell. I'm not blaming him for the game that, like every red-blooded American who reads, I both love and despise.
I’m mad about the attitude that Goodell obviously has toward speeches and communication. It’s the attitude so many of our speakers have. It is that of a spoiled, callow, complacent little boy.
Here’s what I mean:
Goodell had the speech of his life to give last month. After a dynamically disastrous year in the NFL, he had to give his 2015 state-of-the-league speech.
Don’t look for the speech on the Internet in script or video, because you won’t find it—even on the NFL site. Perhaps the speech is so vapid that is invisible, except in a few short clips. In them, Goodell stands like an itchy fifth-grader dressed up by his mother right down to the clip-on tie. In a wooden, near self-parodying speaking style that could be improved with a speaking lesson from Siri, Goodell says things like, “I’m realistic about the work that lies ahead, and confident that we will do what is expected of us, and more importantly, of ourselves.”
We will do what expected of us … and of ourselves? I’m pretty sure a professional speechwriter didn’t write that. Goodell either mangled a good sentence—and it's hard to know how, since he clings to the script like a drunkard to a lamppost—or dutifully read a sentence that his best buddy in marketing wrote on a cocaine toot.
At one point, Goodell tries to look like a real boy, acknowledging, “It’s been a tough year. It has been a tough year for me personally. It's been a year of I would say humility and learning. We obviously, as an organization, have gone through adversity, but, more importantly, it has been adversity for me. … We’ve all done a lot of soul-searching, starting with yours truly.”
That’s Goodell as far as it goes. But when you say you’ve done soul-searching, Son, you have to tell us stories or show us pictures from the your trip.
You have to tell us about a stunning conversation you had with an ex-player who has chronic brain encephalothapy from too many concussions.
You have to share something your wife said that was precisely the moment you knew you’d been wrong about your response to the Ray Rice elevator beating.
You have to tell us why you think you for so long were blind (but now you see!).
Or you have to begin to do some of that. Don’t you?
No, you don’t.
Roger Goodell is the face of a public sport—he’s in show business, for Godsakes. He’s under fire from a public that largely considers him a cold, calculating water-carrier for 32 one-percenters who own pro football teams.
Given one big chance to show the public he’s more than the uncaring, lawyered-up corporate automaton they think he is, Goodell won’t get speaker coaching, he either won’t rehearse the speechwriter’s text or doesn’t employ a competent scribe in the first place, and he won’t share anything more than platitudes about challenges and opportunities, and a list of new programs the NFL is conducting.
“And I made my bed, and I even put away my toys. So there!”
And corporate communication people wonder why their bosses—with far more to lose and far less to gain than the now chronically embattled Roger Goodell by delivering honest communications to their organization’s constituencies—don't take their advice.
No, you don’t wonder at all. But you do get mad every once in awhile. And you should. Because these little rich boys (and girls) you’re working for owe us—their communicators and their publics—more, on behalf of the powerful institutions they run: more candor, more insight, more persuasion, more humanity.
"I don’t have to," says the little boy.