Opinion: If NFL is going to hold draft, at least it’s going to benefit relief efforts

Agree or disagree with the NFL’s decision to go ahead with the draft later this month, some good will come out of it.

The league has decided to use the draft as a fund-raiser, with money generated in the three days of “Draft-A-Thon” going to six different organizations’ COVID-19 relief efforts. Food banks, scientists, medical professionals – all will benefit from the NFL draft.

“When the decision came down to cancel all live events in Las Vegas, we knew we had to do something philanthropically-oriented throughout the draft. It’s going to be a moment when a lot of people and eyeballs are going to be tuning in. How can we leverage that?” Anna Isaacson, the NFL’s senior vice president of Social Responsibility, told USA TODAY Sports.

“So many people are suffering. And suffering on all sorts of levels.”

The NFL can be tone-deaf. At a time when most states have shuttered all non-essential businesses, when cases and death tolls are continuing to spike, going ahead with the draft April 23-25 seems to be both arrogant and oblivious.

But the arrogance stems from the fact the NFL knows it is the biggest game around – and it recognizes the powerful influence it has as a result.

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Millions watch the draft every year. Even more are likely to tune in this year, what with much of the country hunkered down and the uniqueness of coaches and team executives conducting the draft from their living rooms and basements just as fantasy owners have been doing for years.

If even a fraction of the people watching donate, the NFL will wind up with a large pile of money to distribute to six organizations doing good at a time when it is desperately needed.

“We can do (the draft) in a way that’s safe, that still gets the work done, but then allows us to do something bigger and better that we wouldn’t have the opportunity to do if we didn’t go forward,” Isaacson said.

The league wanted to spread the money around to address as many needs as possible – food, shelter, supplies and research, to name a few – and it wanted the recipients to have a national reach.

It had already identified five groups – American Red Cross; the Centers for Disease Control Foundation; Meals on Wheels; Salvation Army; and United Way – to receive $45 million that had been collected from the league, its teams and players. But after seeing what individual teams and athletes were focusing on, Isaacson said the NFL added Feeding America, which distributes funds to food banks, for Draft-A-Thon.

All money raised will be split between the six groups.

“Each one of them cover key areas of need, and each are a little bit different,” Isaacson said. “There’s some redundancy, but mostly each is doing unique things.”

The NFL will officially launch the campaign late next week, promoting it across all its social media channels. Commissioner Roger Goodell will spotlight it when he kicks off the draft – fans, please don’t boo him when he does this – and there will be mentions of Draft-A-Thon on tickers and graphics.

There also will be pitches from players, and mini-films highlighting the work of each of the six organizations.

“If you’re watching the draft in any capacity, this will come through to you in a big way,” Isaacson said.

The NFL hasn’t set a financial goal for Draft-A-Thon because it’s never done anything like this. It also knows there will be people watching the draft who don’t have money to spare. Or are fearful for their jobs in the weeks and months to come.

But there is a feeling of helplessness throughout much of the country, of wanting to do something for medical professionals, first responders and all those people who are in need. The NFL is offering a means to do so, and using its second-biggest event of the year to promote it means it has a chance to make a real difference, at a time when it’s really needed.

“If we can do (the draft) in a way that is safe, and also use that moment to raise much-needed funds and bring awareness to the people on the front lines, and also give people maybe a bit of a break with some football action, that’s, in my mind, what we’re hoping to accomplish,” Isaacson said.

The NFL doesn’t need its draft right now. But there are a lot of Americans who do. 

Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour

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