Roger Goodell, start respecting women

Goodell under fire over handling of discipline
Goodell under fire over handling of discipline

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Story highlights

  • CNN reporter Rachel Nichols calls out Roger Goodell at a press conference
  • Roxanne Jones: The NFL's future depends on women; Goodell and others should show respect

Roxanne Jones is a founding editor of ESPN The Magazine and a former vice president at ESPN. She is a national lecturer on sports, entertainment and women's topics and a recipient of the 2010 Woman of the Year award from Women in Sports and Events. She is the co-author of "Say It Loud: An Illustrated History of the Black Athlete" and CEO of the Push Marketing Group. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN)Roger Goodell has made a lot of noise lately telling the world how much the NFL has changed when it comes to respecting women. The commissioner tells us he has had an epiphany since his botched decision-making in the Ray Rice domestic abuse case and the resulting backlash from well beyond the sports world.

Since then, Goodell said he has visited shelters and spoken to abused women and saw the pain and despair that come to families when women are not valued. His mission is to make amends. He's updated the personal conduct rules to include a mandatory, six-game, unpaid suspension for personnel who violate the league's domestic abuse policy.
Roxanne Jones
And Goodell wants to make it absolutely clear that the NFL culture has no room for abusive attitudes or behavior toward women -- who are the fastest-growing NFL demographic, making up 45% of the more than 150 million American fans.
It all sounds nice. But strangely, that changed man was nowhere in sight this week as Goodell responded with not only disrespect but disdain when CNN reporter Rachel Nichols respectfully questioned him during the NFL State of the Union press conference during Super Bowl week in Phoenix.
Nichols was correct to ask Goodell about the league's conflict-of-interest problem as it pertains to the internal investigation process in cases of domestic abuse, or allegations of cheating on the field, such as Deflategate.
"When you do something like hire an outside investigator like Ted Wells into the Patriots investigation, you're still paying him and Robert Kraft, who owns the Patriots, is paying you," Nichols said, referring to Wells, who is investigating Deflategate. "What steps can you guys take in the future to mitigate some of those conflict-of-interest issues?"
Nichols was spot on. Not only did she raise a legitimate concern but she struck at the heart of the "integrity" issue plaguing the league. An issue Goodell says he wants to address. But it seems he only wants to address the problem on his own terms.
"Somebody has to pay them, Rachel, and unless you're volunteering, which I don't think you are, we will," was Goodell's snarky and condescending response.
Roger has a lot to learn. The first step toward respecting women begins in the workplace -- valuing our voices, our intelligence, and our hard work -- especially when it goes against the grain in a male-dominated culture. Our innovation should be encouraged. Clearly, the commissioner is struggling with this part. Instead, Goodell gave viewers a look at what happens to women in his workplace when they dare to challenge norms, or challenge him.
Hearing Goodell's response, I cringed. And if Twitter is any indicator, so did many women and many men who understand the code language of the Boys Club. @espn1420 tweeted: "So, Roger Goodell got defensive, then he actually attacked Rachael Nichols' integrity...getting a little nervous, Mr. Commish?" From @janesports: "Given that Rachel Nichols is trending, I'd say Roger Goodell undermined that message of humility and change. #NFL"
For many women who've worked in corporate America, Goodell's chastising sounded familiar. We have all been there. The belittling comes in many forms. And it is often constant. For me, while at ESPN, it was a senior colleague who liked to speak for me at meetings whenever he thought an idea I suggested or a comment I made was out of line and did not fit his agenda.
"What Rox means is ..." he'd offer with a chuckle, before completely taking over the conversation. Never mind that we weren't friendly enough for him to give me a pet name, or, that he could have no possible idea what I meant since we'd never spoken about the topic at hand. It took me a few years to build enough confidence to counter my colleague, by saying -- 'No actually, I meant exactly what I said. But thank you for having my back on this ...' Luckily for me, most of the men I worked with at ESPN were respectful and supportive.
Pet names, talking over you, and belittling your questions as Goodell did with Nichols, are common strategies men sometimes use to degrade women in the workplace and label us not ready to play with the big boys.
Nichols handled Goodell's slight with grace. She said nothing and instead let him indict himself with a string of sarcastic comments. Good move. Everyone in that room knew Goodell was out of line. And worse, his comments were bad for business.
The NFL's future depends on women. In fact, from 2009 to 2013, female viewership overall was up 26%, compared with an 18% rise for men.
Yes, women are changing the game. And we demand respect.
But we realize that shifting a culture is not easy. Long-held attitudes will not disappear overnight. But with the right leadership, change can slowly happen one day at a time, one mind at a time. So let's give the commissioner credit. He's realized that negative attitudes about women need to change around the league. It just hasn't dawned on him yet how closely we are all listening and watching his every move. And it will take more than a compelling TV commercial and star-studded, multimillion-dollar marketing campaign to convince women that the NFL is serious about respecting us.
Roger Goodell will have to show us that his own actions can live up to his lofty words.