Over the years I’ve come to trust Jim Trotter’s writing and reporting for NFL Network and NFL.com. He covered the league, told the truth, and asked important questions.
It’s why I followed him.
It’s also why he’s out of work.
At the annual Super Bowl news conference in February, Trotter pressed NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on the league’s diversity record. The NFL is 60-70 percent black when it comes to players, but Trotter wondered why there weren’t any full-time black employees on the NFL Media news desk.
No copy editors.
Zero full-time black employees.
“I would ask you as an employee, when are we in the newsroom going to have a black person in senior management?” Trotter asked the commissioner in February. “And when will we have a full-time black employee on the news desk?”
Goodell shouldn’t have been surprised by the question. It’s the same one Trotter asked a year earlier. But the czar of the NFL said, “I am not in charge of the newsroom…” before rambling off into the best non-answer that he could manage on the spot.
A month later, Trotter’s contract wasn’t renewed. The NFL trucked him. It was a terrible move. One that lifted doubt and underscored a glaring reality — Goodell actually is in charge of the newsroom.
Trotter will find work. He’s too talented and well-sourced to stay unemployed. I reached out to him and wished him well. Trotter doesn’t appear shocked or surprised by any of what happened.
In fact, Trotter told fellow NFL columnist Peter King this week: “Anytime you poke the bear there are potential consequences.”
It’s probably a good time for a discussion about why none of us should trust the NFL to cover itself. “NFL Media” is made up of entities such as NFL.com, NFL Films, NFL Mobile, NFL Network, NFL Now and NFL RedZone. That family of companies now looks like an unapologetic league-branded pom-pom waving food court.
Years ago, when the Trail Blazers were still in partnership with NBC Sports Northwest (originally Comcast SportsNet Northwest) things ventured into the same perilous territory. The local NBA franchise was in a disappointing dance with its preferred news entity. Franchise officials carefully monitored what media were writing, saying and tweeting.
Blazers GM Neil Olshey kept a large file folder filled with printouts of criticisms that went too far. Those who were particularly critical of the struggling organization sometimes got fired or didn’t have their contracts renewed. Others were issued stern warnings.
The resulting coverage turned into “Blazerganda.”
The NFL isn’t interested in real news coverage, either. It wants NFL Media to prop up the teams, highlight the positives, and help steer fans to games and merchandise. It doesn’t want Goodell — salary $63.9 million per year — pressed by tough questions. There’s no other reasonable explanation for the way the NFL shoved Trotter into moving traffic this month.
The NFL has only three black head coaches (Mike Tomlin, Todd Bowles and DeMeco Ryans). It has one biracial coach (Mike McDaniel), one Latino coach (Ron Rivera) and Robert Saleh is Lebanese.
The league can crow all it wants about diversity-driven initiatives and the Rooney Rule, but the measure of progress often comes in places the public can’t see. The NFL’s state-sponsored newsroom is exactly that kind of place.
You know me. I’m interested in sourced, in-depth reporting and commentary. It’s the promise I made to readers when I launched this independent publication a year ago. I’m not into spoon-fed coverage. My loyalty isn’t to the teams and leagues I cover. It’s to you — my readers.
The NFL offered Trotter a three-month severance package in exchange for signing an NDA. He declined. The NFL woefully underestimated him on that front. But their message is loud and clear, isn’t it?
The NFL is not interested in covering itself.
Not objectively, anyway.
I’m not advocating for unqualified copy editors and managers to be hired and promoted by the NFL based on the color of their skin. But is the league really going to pretend it couldn’t find one black journalist qualified to work full-time on the news desk? And why dump Trotter for asking about it?
Trotter was hired to be a journalist for NFL Media. That was his job. He put Goodell on the spot, asking a fair question in a forum designed for just that. Trotter knew he was taking a risk. The answer mattered to him. By extension, what happened to Trotter for asking that question should matter to us all.
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I am generally not in favor of ratioing employment by skin color. It is its own form of racism. The colleges and some large companies have been doing it for years and it is pathetic. It leads to underperformance and a downward spiral for the entities involved, like what is happening in our society right now. But, I also am totally opposed to outright bias in the workplace. Whether or not Goodell is acting out of racism, or just massive ego at being shown up, the response is not acceptable. Answer the damn question since you are in charge, Roger Goodell. The "buck stops" at your desk, or maybe you don't understand the responsibilities of a CEO and so should not be in that seat.
The underlying question is how can the organizations be held accountable when they control the narrative and access? Kinda like the political system..