By Jason Keidel
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Phil Simms has made a personal and public decision that could send a symbolic jolt through the broadcast booths dotting the NFL map this season. The Giants icon, who had the best, most surreal Super Bowl in history, is throwing one more spiral through a societal tire.
I don’t pretend to be his good buddy, gopher, or publicist, but I did write a feature on Simms for another entity, and found the former Giants quarterback to be bright, thoughtful and forthright. He never ducked from delicate topics or worried about how his words would be interpreted by the PC Police. His musings off the record could fill 10 sports, arts, and political sections of the New York Times.
Case in point is his recent hint that he may choose to not utter the word “Redskins” during a football broadcast. And while you can argue the move is the quintessential act of political correctness in light of the army of ornery activists who want Daniel Snyder to take an eraser to his team’s divisive handle, Simms is standing on something harder than Astroturf.
It’s too facile for us to assert that Simms is just joining the trendy group hug against Snyder. Not only is Simms bucking the heretofore ineffective Boss Hog — an ’80s nod to the old O-Line from RFK Stadium — he’s also grinding his keys along the glossy, impenetrable NFL shield.
Simms is not an NFL employee anymore, so you could be inclined to say he’s firing from a safe distance. But he calls games for my boss (CBS) and is a host on “Inside the NFL” on Showtime (also owned by CBS). So he earns a living entirely from the sport that made him rich, famous, and fabulous. As such he runs the risk of knocking heads with the sporting monolith and its boss, Roger Goodell.
The NFL commissioner has showed no signs of cowering before the mushrooming movement that denounces the Redskins as a racist moniker. Despite his reputation as the Wyatt Earp of world football, whose badge every red-blooded NFL baller fears, Goodell is developing a reputation as an embellished shill for the establishment.
And when we say the establishment, we mean his bosses. Unlike most of us, he reports to more than one. He has 32 of them, to be exact, all of whom are coddled billionaires whose egos couldn’t squeeze into the Lear jets they fly around the world. We call them owners, and they aren’t used to hearing “No,” especially from one of their own.
Goodell wields his wand all over the workforce, banning this player for four games, another for six. Or, in the case of Josh Gordon, a year, after he tested positive with a microscopic amount of marijuana in his system.
But let Colts owner Jim Irsay get popped with pills and 29 grand in his car, and the commissioner is the emblem of understanding. Goodell is all about the process when his 32 superiors need a helping hand, squats into his yoga stance, chanting the hymns of humanity.
But in a glaring twist of irony — or hypocrisy — the NFL reportedly considered a rule that made it illegal to drop N-bombs and other racial slurs from the field during games. But if you happen to buy a team whose name refers directly to a minority’s skin color and whose visage is etched in stereotypical tones in the side of their helmets, well, that’s all in the game.
Simms sees that hypocrisy. And he’s done with it. And good for him for it.
How you handle their handle is your affair. Sure, you’d be right if you said we all were slow to the draw on the club in our capital. Why the sudden indignity? For 80 years we’ve barked the team’s name with impunity and indifference. This is simply the crusade du jour.
But you could make that argument about all social progress. Some congressmen and senators who were remembered as champions of civil rights voted against the Civil Rights Movement. People who now adore once abhorred Muhammad Ali, even calling him Cassius Clay years after he changed his name.
Taken in a more microscopic context, we all can think of a time when we pitched our tent on the wrong side of an issue. But through months or years of debate, dedication and meditation, we finally let the righteous light through the curtains of our ignorance.
The cynics will assert that Simms is just jumping on the Peter King bandwagon, that he wants at least one paragraph of his epitaph to say he was enlightened. Simms is simply doing the Washington D.C. version of the Ice Bucket Challenge, dumping some politically correct ice water on his blond dome.
If you know Phil Simms, at all, you know better. Simms never avoided a good fight, against the Eagles, Cowboys, Bill Parcells, or that football team in Washington. For some reason, I can’t remember their name.
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel
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