The Person to Change the NFL’s Culture: Condoleezza Rice

This is the first time I’m digressing from site selection and location issues because – as a military veteran – I must express my disapproval of the irresponsible actions of NFL players and NFL leadership. To see why I’m departing from my usual topics, please read on….

Untold millions of football fans are angry with those in the NFL who disrespect the American flag, the national anthem and military veterans – and it started long before President Trump said a word about it.

Now we learn that league owners the players and their labor union, the NFLPA, will meet to discuss current controversies. What they don’t understand is this: No matter what they decide, many fans no longer care unless they clean house.

When an organization is dysfunctional, when it suffers from wishy-washy leadership, a major change is needed at the top. Fortunately, there are ways to restore the public’s respect for the NFL through a reorganization and putting an accomplished woman, Condoleezza Rice, at the top.

But first, let’s look to when NFL players were treated as heroes and patriots. An example is “Rocky” Bleier, who overcame serious Vietnam War injuries and helped the Pittsburgh Steelers march to four Super Bowl wins in the 1970s. Now, decades later, he continues to mingle with and be respected by military veterans around the nation.

On the field today, grown men act in ways that were unthinkable in Bleier’s day, so it’s understandable why an NFL boycott is being so fiercely and indefatigably promoted by outraged fans.

We can fix this. The late Steelers Coach Chuck Noll – who led his team to four Super Bow victories – always told his players, “You have to replace bad habits with good habits.” While he was speaking of on-field plays, I think his words are apropos to showing respect to the fans. (Think about that, Mike Tomlin.)

Who can instill good habits in football players today? Well, I’m confident it’s Condoleezza Rice. The time is overdue to make her the new NFL commissioner. Many people don’t know that as far back as 2002 she called it her “dream job.”

Several years ago, when Commissioner Roger Goodell failed to strongly penalize players involved in domestic violence, a movement began – which included diverse media outlets such as the Washington Post and Fox News – to draft Ms. Rice to replace him.

She is superbly qualified. ESPN once noted that Ms. Rice is “arguably the most interesting member of the College Football Playoff selection committee. She can talk about the national championship or national security. She can discuss the Middle East or middle linebacker.” It’s been said that “Just like she could speak Russian to the Russians, she could talk football to the football players.”

Big, hulking players have been known to surround her and listen – really listen – during her post-game reviews.

Stanford football coach David Shaw realizes that. He said of Ms. Rice – “If she ever sees us play a prevent defense, she’s going to be in my office. She hates prevent defense. She wants to be aggressive.”

Considering her experience in handling one international crises after another, she is more than capable of cleaning up a league filled with high-testosterone males who demand to do things their way and only their way. And since she’s dealt with leaders of totalitarian states whose behavior has been criminal, she can handle NFL players who have shameful criminal records.

Those players who want to inflict Harvey Weinstein-type abuse on their wives and girlfriends might want to think twice about that with NFL commissioner Rice in charge.

May we frankly address the touchy subject of race?

Ms. Rice’s role as the first African-American woman to serve as Secretary of State is relevant. Since a majority of NFL players are black, it could be helpful that she be the one to wield authority as commissioner. With her impressive background, wouldn’t many players regardless of race thoughtfully consider her viewpoints?

On a related note, I point with pride to the football team at my Pennsylvania alma mater, Slippery Rock University: They wore special uniforms in the school’s “Salute to Military and First Responders” game held in late September.

The players wore “cadet gray” uniforms, designed by Adidas, paying tribute to one of the original colors worn by cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point starting in the early 1800s.

Today’s NFL could learn something about respect from Slippery Rock’s team and from players like Rocky Bleier. But first a housecleaning is in order to change the league’s culture. The person to do that is Condoleezza Rice.

Final thought: She is tough enough to push back against those who treat our national symbols with contempt. If she were commissioner, and since she is a concert pianist, she just might play the national anthem at the start of a game. Pity the player who dares to take a knee then.

This column is posted in memory of the best friend I had while serving in the U.S. Navy, Hiawatha Lee Langley, of Aircraft Squadron VS-24, who perished after being swept overboard from the aircraft carrier, USS Intrepid. As the squadron’s Personnel Clerk, I had the terrible job of doing the paperwork associated with his death. I remember meeting his girlfriend and my heart went out to her as well as to his family. After all these years, I still think of Hiawatha and wish we could have gotten together and shared life’s important moments throughout the decades. I believe that Hiawatha would join me in being incredibly offended by the vulgar behavior of NFL players who disrespect the national anthem, our nation’s flag and military veterans. Although a lifelong Steelers fan, I feel so insulted and marginalized that I don’t know how I can ever again watch another Steelers game or any NFL game. And I’m in some good company: Vin Scully, the legendary Los Angeles Dodgers sportscaster (who earlier did broadcasts for the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Yankees), said in November that he’ll “never watch another NFL game again” because of the protests. For the record, Hiawatha is buried at Langley Family Cemetery (Beulah Twp.), Johnston County, North Carolina. Jan. 30, 1945 – Jan. 16, 1965. RIP Hiawatha.

Joseph Vranich is known as The Business Relocation Coach while the formal name of his business is Spectrum Location Solutions.

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