NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott each issued a statement in response to the widespread protests over the killing of George Floyd. Though both aim to heal divisions, the contrast between them is stark -- and comparing the two adds up to a huge lesson for every leader on how to -- and how not to -- speak out during a national crisis.
Goodell's statement, released Saturday by press release and tweet, is a breathtaking collection of platitudes. Here's the final paragraph in its entirety because even after decades of reading bland corporate public statements, I've never seen so many words say so little.
As current events dramatically underscore, there remains much more to do as a country and as a league. These tragedies inform the NFL's commitment and our ongoing efforts. There remains an urgent need for action. We recognize the power of our platform in communities and as part of the fabric of American society. We embrace that responsibility and are committed to continuing the important work to address these systemic issues together with our players, clubs and partners.
If you can find a single shred of information in there, please let me know. As Slate points out, earlier in the statement, Goodell expresses condolences for the families of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, who have "lost loved ones," but carefully avoids mentioning how that happened. A reader who didn't know the specifics might guess they were victims of an illness.
Also conspicuously absent was any mention of Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who caused a sensation in 2016 by kneeling during the national anthem as a protest against police brutality toward black people. As many have noted lately, that was very much a peaceful protest, but Kaepernick wound up out of a job and no other team would hire him. Meanwhile, the NFL made a rule that specifically forbade kneeling during the anthem. Since Kaepernick refused to stand (or hide in the locker room), he was effectively blackballed.
Given that recent history, Goodell's statement seems especially hollow. So do the words of three NFL coaches, who praised Kaepernick for his protest on a recent podcast, even though none of them were willing to offer him a job, or an apology.
"Multi-racial is beautiful."
Now contrast Goodell's statement with Prescott's, which took the form of a four-page Instagram post that features an image of George Floyd and the phrase "Black Lives Matter," but also an image of black and white hands intertwined. Prescott, whose mother is white and Native American and whose father is black, writes that he is "disgusted and unsettled," and though he is generally an optimist, he's been struggling to handle these crisis-ridden times without football and while grieving the loss of his brother. He writes,
We must commit to hold ourselves and our communities accountable! We must teach one another about our differences. We must embrace the different colors, cultures, and ways of life. To be multi-racial is beautiful, and that is what this country is!
Prescott goes on to say that he intends to do his part to make things better -- including pledging $1 million for improved police training and to fight racism through education and advocacy.
His statement is less polished than Goodell's. It obviously was not vetted by a team of media specialists before he posted it, but it's much, much more powerful. Prescott says what he feels. He makes it personal. He calls on others to help heal the deep divisions that have plagued this nation for far too long. And he backs up what he says with the promise of a substantial investment to help make things better. He likely knew when he issued the statement that some people would publicly disagree with him, given the calls to reduce police funding. But he accepted that as the cost of letting people know where he stands.
If you're considering making a public statement about the protests and the state of race relations in our country, as so many business leaders are, take a few minutes to review these two statements first. Compare their effectiveness, transparency, and even their humanity. Then decide if you want to pepper the world with more vague abstractions, or if you'd rather say something meaningful that might touch people's hearts.