PHOENIX – Arizona Cardinals President Michael Bidwill organized a letter of support for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, stirring controversy when a story about his backing of President Donald Trump’s nomination was posted on the team-affiliated website and Twitter account.
The letter, which was sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee and vouches for Kavanaugh’s character, seems to break with comments NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell made last October when he said, “What we’re trying to do is stay out of politics. We’re not looking to get into politics.”
“The fact that he personally supports Kavanaugh, I have no problem with that at all,” said Stephen Mosher, a professor in the communication studies department at Ithaca College in New York and the coordinator of the sports studies program. “But if he refers to himself or uses the Arizona Cardinals’ website – which has also got to have legal association with the NFL — that seems to me to be deeply problematic. Sounds to me like the NFL is endorsing this person for the Supreme Court.”
Mosher has been openly critical of the NFL’s national anthem policies.
Owners to players: Stay out of politics. It’s hurting the bottom line.
Also owners: https://t.co/VSZHKEpwse
— Jemele Hill (@jemelehill) July 10, 2018
A professional sports team is backing a political appointment but votes to deny players the right to exercise their social and political voices. Gross.
— Exavier Pope (@exavierpope) July 10, 2018
Many Twitter users, including outspoken ESPN media personality Jemele Hill, were critical of the Cardinals’ decision to post about Bidwill’s support for Kavanaugh to team-affiliated accounts following a policy change the league made just months ago.
Despite Goodell’s previous comments about staying out of politics, the commissioner released a statement in May announced a new policy requiring players to stand for the national anthem if they’re on the field or stay in the locker room.
Statement from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell pic.twitter.com/1Vn7orTo1R
— NFL (@NFL) May 23, 2018
In an interview Tuesday with Mike Broomhead of KFYI radio in Phoenix, Bidwill defended his decision to organize a letter of support for Kavanaugh.
“I know that there’s some people that may not like the judge or this whole thing, but for me it was really about, this isn’t about politics,” Bidwill said on The Mike Broomhead Show.
“We were high school football teammates, we’ve grown up in life together … I went to his wedding, watched him become a husband and a father and a terrific judge and we stayed close,” he added.
Bidwill reiterated throughout the interview that the letter wasn’t about politics but rather Kavanaugh’s character and wanting people to know his view of that. He also addressed the fact that NFL athletes aren’t permitted to kneel as a form of protest against police brutality and racial injustice during the anthem.
“We ask our players 20 days a year, game days, to restrict their statements, and the rest of the days we want them to be out there, you know, getting engaged in the community just like I am and other owners are,” Bidwill told Broomhead.
Mosher said it’s hypocritical to ask players to stifle their free speech in the moments when they have the biggest platform.
“To me, that’s the great irony. The players are most visible and can be most effective with their views on social justice on those specific 20 days,” Mosher said.
Bidwill is one of five NFL owners on a social-justice committee that works to help get players more involved in changing political policies important to them. The committee includes five players, three of whom are former Cardinals: Josh McCown, Aeneas Williams and Anquan Boldin. Bidwill has a background in criminal justice as a lawyer and former federal prosecutor.
The Cardinals president is no stranger to the political sphere and sharing his views. In 2014, Bidwill called on people in Arizona’s business community to support then-gubernatorial candidate Doug Ducey, according to an article on azcentral.com.
Much of the reaction this time was critical of the Cardinals promoting Bidwill’s views of Kavanaugh on the team website and Twitter account — especially given the political tenor surrounding the NFL.
Shout out to the fans who yell that players should protest, discuss politics and social issues away from ✌🏾work✌🏾but won’t use that same energy to criticize the Cardinals for using the team’s web site to endorse a Supreme Court nominee#StickToSportsWhenItsConvenientForMe https://t.co/Y2X9m1kh2v
— Jemele Hill (@jemelehill) July 10, 2018
Roger Abrams, a law professor at Northeastern University who authored the book “Playing Tough: The World of Sports and Politics,” said that the team’s decision to promote Bidwill’s viewpoints on its website might prove a dicey one.
“It seemed to me to be rather risky, unless he knows that every one of his season-ticket holders will come to the games even though (Bidwill appears to hold certain political views),” Abrams said.
“It’s understandable, even though I would say it’s foolish, because you never know why people won’t go to a game,” he said.
Abrams said that NFL owners have established themselves as a politically conservative group, and that aligning with those political views could alienate some fans.
“There is no rule that I know of in the National Football League that says an owner cannot do what he did,” Abrams said. “It’s a question of what’s good business, as opposed to what violates league rules.”
Brian Cashman, general manager of the New York Yankees organization, was also among the more than 150 people who signed the letter spearheaded by Bidwill. Major League Baseball, however, has not been mired in similar controversy.
Asked by Broomhead if he had any regrets for how he handled voicing his views, Bidwill didn’t back down.
“None at all. I think it’s important to speak up,” he said.
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