Today’s guest columnist is Amy Trask, the former CEO of the Oakland Raiders and a current football analyst for CBS Sports and CBS Sports Network.
I observed throughout my years in the league that there was an inordinate amount of hand-wringing when changes were made, or when something was perceived to be a “distraction.” That which is often deemed a distraction is not a distraction, nor should it be labeled as such.
By way of example, a coach once stormed over to me as we flew home from a road game and angrily declared it a distraction that we did not have “the right candy bars” on the team plane. I gently steered him away from just inside the cockpit where I was standing, as I thought it best that the pilots not hear him rant as they flew the plane. I calmly told the coach that if he considered the absence of a specific kind of candy bar to be a distraction, we had a far bigger problem than snacks.
Of course, this past year there have been numerous significant challenges that have necessitated adjustment by the league and its teams, and it could be fairly suggested that some had the potential to be distractions.
As I shared on CBS Sports Network at the outset of the season, those teams that would best adapt to the challenges and changed circumstances caused by the pandemic and those teams that refused to allow those challenges and changed circumstances to be distractions would be well positioned to succeed on the field.
As we near the conclusion of the season, we have seen that the league, the teams and the players have for the most part responded exceptionally well to the challenges borne of the pandemic.
The draft was held in a distanced manner, and notwithstanding that employees of quite a few teams were darting about and screaming “the sky is falling,” it was a tremendous success. Similarly, changes to the offseason schedule, the elimination of many team gatherings, the switch to virtual meetings, the changes in workout and practice routines, and the elimination of preseason games all worked, and all worked well.
Looking forward, we know that there will not be a combine this coming offseason, and that teams will not be allowed to hold private workouts or have draft prospects visit their facilities. Similarly, there will be limitations placed on the number of players who may participate in a “pro day” and on how many team representatives may attend. There will again be hand-wringing, and again teams will adapt.
Having successfully adapted many of its policies and routines, the league should thoroughly review the changes it implemented to determine which of those should be maintained once we are through the pandemic. Many things previously believed of existential importance to league and team success, and thus immutable, were altered and the sky did not fall. In fact, some of these changes have been an improvement to long established league policy and practice, and there is no good reason not to consider making a number of them permanent. JC Tretter, president of the players association, has suggested just that, stating that there is no reason to return to the previous offseason program, as the level of play has been high.
By way of caution, I will note that before making any changes permanent, the players and the league should give tremendous consideration to each and every possible byproduct of so doing to minimize to the extent possible any unintended, unfortunate consequences. That said, one change I would make permanent is a substantial reduction in the number of preseason games, to one home game and one road game for each team.
Of course, making some of these changes permanent will require agreement between the players association and the league. The heartening news in that regard is that they cooperated and collaborated with one another in a manner that has not been evident for a number of years.
I witnessed the considerable change in the relationship between the parties after Gene Upshaw passed away and DeMaurice Smith took over the players association. There was no longer any cooperation or collaboration between those parties. I certainly understand and I absolutely believe that the players association has an extremely important responsibility to represent and protect the rights of players, but not every issue need beget monumental disagreement, and not every disagreement need rise to Herculean levels. Collaboration can yield better results than confrontation.
The need to address the challenges borne of and associated with the pandemic prompted this significant and positive shift in the relationship between these parties, as they had to work together to quickly solve problems created by a common enemy, and they did. Without that collaboration there would not have been a full football season and perhaps none at all. It is my fervent belief that the parties can and should continue to work together in this manner once we are through this moment in time, and it is my hope that they will. Those involved (players, coaches, team staff, league staff, team owners, etc…) have many differing interests, but this important common interest: that the league not only survives, but thrives.
The author of You Negotiate Like a Girl: Reflections on a Career in the National Football League, Trask is the Chairman of the Board of Ice Cube’s BIG3, and serves on the advisory board of directors for Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation and the Los Angeles Sports and Entertainment Commission.