National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell used today’s Reformed Secular Breakfast Club meeting in Washington, D.C. as a forum to announce new rule changes in the game.
The changes are an attempt by the NFL to appeal to a broader television market.
The rules become effective on October 31 with the Monday night broadcast of the Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears football game.
After a short but enthusiastic introduction by club president Lew Seifer, an ardent supporter of the new rules, Goodell spoke. This is the entirety of his speech:
“Thank you for your very warm — dare I say hot — welcome.
“As you know, television ratings for NFL football games have fallen drastically this season, roughly fifteen percent, or one out of seven viewers. Many reasons are attributed to this decline; market over-saturation; competition from the internet; competition from other television programming; increased Sunday afternoon church attendance.
“The NFL’s research, however, indicates that approximately one out of every eight potential viewers is refusing to watch as a means of making a personal statement against what he believes is the NFL’s lack of national patriotism. Specifically, they are upset by the NFL’s decision not to reprimand Kaepernick and a very small handful other players for refusing to stand for the national anthem at a few games earlier in the season.
“These viewers have a right to protest, of course, but they are dead wrong in thinking the NFL is not patriotic! And with the tough new rules changes I’m announcing, we’re ready to prove just how patriotic the National Football League is! Go USA!
“I’m sure those protesting viewers will agree that one of the core principles of the Constitution is the separation of the state from the church. All Americans have freedom from religion. You can’t force it on others. That’s in the Bill of Rights, too. What does this mean for football? It’s simple, and it illustrates the extent to which we are prepared to prove our patriotism.
“God has no place on the turf!
“Beginning October 31, players, coaches and staff will no longer be allowed to make religious gestures during the game. No more signs of the cross before big plays. No more folding of the hands in prayer. No more “Te-bowing” after a big play. No more locker room prayers. Any such actions will carry heavy penalties, including multiple game suspensions.
“And if there’s any ‘laying on of hands’ by players or staff to bring an injured player out of a concussion or heal a broken neck, or even to revivify a spectator who dies of a heart attack during an exciting game, that player or staff member will receive a lifetime ban from the game. The NFL has zero tolerance for any manifestation of God on the field.
“Our patriotism and support of guiding American principles extends to the broadcast booth as well. We will require broadcasters to abstain from using religious terms such as ‘Hail Mary Pass,’ ‘This is a miracle!’ ‘Heavens to Betsy!’ or even ‘They don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell!’ When an injured player is taken off the field on a gurney, the broadcaster will not ask viewers to ‘say a prayer,’ but instead, ‘cross your fingers.’ He or she will remind viewers of the competency of the local hospital and trained doctors.
“These may seem to be cosmetic rules changes, but they are more. They are, in fact, more than a token gesture to a handful of disgruntled Americans. This is a real statement to all Americans, including undocumented Americans.
“The cultural and political landscape is changing rapidly. All people want freedom from religion, as guaranteed by the Constitution. This has been explained to me in detail, in numerous meetings these recent weeks with Department of Justice Attorney General Loretta Lynch. She has made it clear that there is no place for religion in stadiums financed and sometimes owned by government entities.
“I remind you of that little thing called separation of church and state. It’s what made America great! It’s patriotic! This separation extends, of course, into broadcast communications over airwaves owned by the government, and into numerous tax subsidies provided to teams. I thank Attorney General Lynch for helping NFL avoid future unpleasant investigations, Congressional oversight hearings and costly court litigations and coordinated boycotts of the advertisers of the televised games.
“But this issue is about more than money. The NFL always has and always will put principle over profit. Look, the NFL can read the times. We know that America’s cultural shift is away from a meddling and judgmental Christian God and towards a more powerful, objectively fairer and infinitely caring government. Which is of course a patriotic government.
“God simply has no place in the huddle. This is a game between men with rules made by men. Er, I mean, people; the NFL doesn’t care how people self-identify in terms of gender. The NFL does not discriminate.
“The NFL also understands that not all of the players believe in God. Far from it. We have our agnostic kickers, our atheist receivers, our pantheistic linesmen, you name it. We need to respect those who disrespect Christianity and the concept of God.
“Further, we need to acknowledge that the historical dominance of the Christian God is often — some say inherently so, institutionally so — threatening, even to non-believers. God is threatening in the same way white culture is inherently threatening to people of color, the handicapped, women, white people under the age of 25, people over the age of 55, white non-heterosexuals and of especially, white liberals of any age. Pretty much seven out of eight people.
“Many football players have learned — often the hard way, let me say! — to justifiably fear that God, and the people and players who revere Him. They’re threatened by God and His followers. This fear extends even to players who don’t believe in that God! They can’t help themselves. They were indoctrinated to fear God!
“We need to understand that when the quarterback moves up behind the center for that last big deciding play of the big game and makes the sign of the cross, that this is an aggressive and discriminatory act of the spiritually privileged.
“As per the NFL’s love of America and the Constitutional right of freedom from religion, the act of partnering with God to win a game is hereby deemed an unconscionable act of sportsmanship. It must be understood that it is threatening to non-believer players when they see an opponent asking God for a miracle. The non-believer knows he’s at a serious disadvantage without God on his side, even, again, if he doesn’t believe in God. It undermines his confidence. He becomes hesitant in action, unsure of thought. Why? Because his experience is that the system is telling him he’s a loser because he doesn’t believe in God, that he can and maybe really will go to hell. Because you never know, do you?
“Institutionalized spiritual discrimination also extends to people who believe in God, especially those who have sinned; users of illegal drugs and steroids; patronizers of strip clubs; fathers of numerous children with numerous women not their wives; speeding in your Ferrari; and even — or maybe especially — those who stoop so low as to use under-inflated balls in games.
“Don’t get me wrong, I’m not speaking for God here, but some of those players maybe should go to hell. A blindside spear tackle on a quarterback may be a fifteen-yard venal sin, but playing with a ball at only eleven pounds air pressure? That’s what I call mortal sin, skip purgatory and go straight to hell. But that’s The Umpire in the Sky’s call, not the NFL’s. Far be it from me to act as God’s proxy in the NFL.
“The bottom line is this: The NFL thinks television ratings will improve with increased fairness in the game. Inappropriate displays — or even appropriate displays — of discriminatory spiritual privilege will be banned, beginning with the October 31 game between the Bears and the Eagles. Spiritual intimidation of the non-believing player and of the believing but guilty sinner will cease and the game, the TV ratings, and the culture, will be better for it.”
“I will conclude my remarks by coming full circle to the inspiration of these rule changes, the playing of the National Anthem before games. The lyrics happen to be very specific in referring, directly or indirectly, to the power and station of God and his influence on the course of the country. To be consistent with the NFL’s policy of supporting the separation of church and state (and by extension, financial beneficiaries of the state), the lyrics will no longer be sung. The anthem will be played instrumentally only. The NFL is all about principle!”