Sunday, September 21, 2014
THE NFL AS MORAL ARBITER & SOCIAL CONSCIENCE?
… AND NOW A FEW WORDS FROM OUR SPONSORS
Roger Goodell, the embattled NFL Commissioner.
Can he survive the raging firestorm of scandal?
TAGS: ROGER GOODELL NFL COMMISSIONER, NFL DOMESTIC ABUSE CASES,
RAY RICE, ADRIAN PETERSON SANCTIONS, NFLPA CODE OF CONDUCT,
BACKLASH FROM CORPORATE SPONSORS, GOODELL’S FIRST RESPONSE
TO RICE INCIDENT INADEQUATE, NFL AS A MONOPOLY, NFL $10 BILLION REVENUE
(Sunday September 21, 2014 East Rutherford, NJ) There is no small irony in having the NFL and some of its most powerful sponsors suddenly be vaulted to the status of social arbiters and morality guides for America. The self-serving, sanctimonious, public apologies, and efforts at damage control expose the League for what it really is in today’s America, in our culture and that is gargantuan money making monopoly that has long been able to make and break the rules of their own construct. Football has become King in the Pantheon of American sports
For many years there was a prominent axiom thought to be a societal truth regarding the prevalence of domestic violence. So pervasive was this belief that it made its way into Trivial Pursuit games back in the 1980’s. The axiom, which has long since been proven to be more urban myth than factual truth was that Super Bowl Sunday’s were the singular days when the most incidents of domestic violence occurred. This “fact” was allegedly supported by police calls responding to domestic abuse cases, a spike in women showing up in emergency rooms with injuries sustained from a domestic violence incident, and some very poor pseudo-science that was simply unsubstantiated. Part of this erroneous equation was based on the “fact”, another axiom actually promoted by beer and alcoholic beverage companies, was that more alcohol was purchased and consumed on the big day than at any other day of the year. Perhaps there is some modicum of truth to this latter point although given the inexorable link between alcohol consumption and spectator sporting events from the collegiate level to the professional, unscientifically examined it makes sense.
The crowds gathered here today for this all important Giants face off against the Texans certainly consumed a substantial amount of alcohol. The pre-game rituals emblematic of tailgating are usually drink-a-thons be they at college or professional games. More stringent laws on and off campuses as well as at professional sporting venues have put a dent in some of the most egregious alcohol-related behavior some of which are significant public health concerns. Still, alcohol and sports in America go hand in hand and between the $10 billion NFL and the country’s largest brewers and distillers, theirs is a match made in corporate revenue heaven.
ALL IN THE FAMILY: KISSING COUSINS
By now there is probably not a person in America, NFL fan or not, who is unaware of the recent controversies that several high profile incidents of domestic or child abuse among current NFL players. Some of these episodes are more disturbing than others. It seems that an oversized component of this cluster of controversy is more directed at the NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and his handling of these now notorious events. Goodell’s inconsistent and clumsy, tone-deaf responses to the Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson cases, just to name two of the highest profile among a rogues gallery of other quick-fisted players alleged to have struck wives or girlfriends, created a backlash that obviously caught the Commissioner, the League and the affected teams by complete surprise. This was a surprise given how protective the League is about its multi-billion dollar brand. Once the levee of controversy was breeched, it was not a flood of outrage from within the NFL that caused the Commissioner to put harsher sanctions on the accused players, it was a matter damage control, it was then a full-out effort at public relations and those measures were seen as just that; cosmetic maneuvers meant to burnish a tarnishing image. But that is what large corporations do; crisis management.
Among the many parallel story lines were the reactions of some of the Leagues and individual franchises most vested corporate sponsors. Theirs were the natural reactions of those guilty by association; they needed to distance themselves from specific teams and athletes in an effort to preserve the vast revenue streams they enjoy. But, like the League, their efforts dripped with the whitewash of insincerity.
Among the first sponsors to express displeasure with how the NFL was dealing with the negative effects of the poorly handled scandals was the brewing giant Anheuser-Busch. Reports indicate that the St. Louis based brewery has a $12 billion 10 year sponsorship contract with the NFL. Anheuser-Busch was the largest of the Leagues sponsors to issue a public statement in support of the League adopting stricter sanctions for players convicted of domestic abuse and also announced they’d launch a domestic violence “awareness” campaign while making significant donations to organizations that provide help and support for domestic violence victims. All of this quite naturally is nothing more than public relations gestures. Anheuser-Busch has an enormously lucrative and vested interest as being the “official beer” of the NFL. In most NFL stadiums Budweiser, the most recognizable of the Anheuser-Busch product lines is sold exclusively.
If either the NFL or any of its sponsors such as Anheuser-Busch had ever been concerned about domestic violence before this time perhaps they would have spent some money and bought some commercial time during NFL games when public service announcements (PSA) would be aired calling attention to the issue. Even during all the years the urban legend about the surge of domestic violence on Super Bowl Sunday was taken as true, neither the League nor any of its sponsors for that matter, spent a dime advocating against violence in the home towards women and children. The NFL and Anheuser-Busch have enjoyed an extremely profitable symbiotic relationship for many years.
Other big time corporate sponsors of the NFL and specific teams including Proctor & Gamble, Radisson Hotels, GMC, Subway, Papa John’s and Gatorade just to mention of few of the most recognizable. Some NFL players including talented running backs like Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson also have individual multi-million dollar endorsement deals with companies ranging from sports equipment and apparel powerhouses Nike and Adidas, as well as sports memorabilia dealers and local interests in the cities where their teams are based. Once the venerable NFL realized they had a full blown image crisis on their hands and that billions of sponsorship dollars might be in jeopardy they launched in earnest their efforts to “protect the shield”, the logo of the NFL.
It has been more than a little discordant listening to some of the NFL’s recent rhetoric. Given their first response to the Ray Rice case and subsequent events, reactions and clumsy footwork since, the mixed messages emerging have been difficult to decipher. The NFL has always claimed to have a “code of conduct” their athletes must uphold while simultaneously treating them as high priced thoroughbreds; on some teams as interchangeable pieces on a 100 yard long chessboard, disposable and of worth only in what they can do on Sunday afternoon for 16 weeks of the year. Yes, this is the nature of all sports from the big time powerhouse collegiate perennial winners, the NFL and other professional Leagues. But football is a very different game than basketball, baseball, or hockey. It is a brutal sport and when played at the professional level it is a game of supremely physically gifted athletes blessed with God given talents honed to a fine razors edge by year round conditioning, training, and discipline.
The overwhelming majority of NFL players are law abiding and have never had so much as a minor brush with the law. Actually, the rate of arrests for NFL’ers when compared to a similar age demographic is far below what it is for young men in general. This latest statistic was compiled long before this recent rash of scandals. Not only are these young men expected to perform at a high level on Sunday, they are expected to abide by the League's code of conduct as codified in a rather lengthy handbook that spells out the rules to avoid some of the off the field perils young instantly famous millionaires have fallen prey to for decades.
One of the more interesting concepts for NFL players to ponder is that of being a “role model”. This ambiguous distinction is easily understood on the field of play in the form of good sportsmanship and dedication to the game in the gym, film room and training facility. It becomes less well defined when applied to a player’s personal life. Yes, many NFL players run charitable non-profit organizations, donate generously to certain causes and otherwise enjoy good standing in their communities. But of course there is the darker more perilous side to be a young, rich and suddenly famous professional athlete in a big city. There is the nightlife, the club scene, the groupies, latchers-on, and all sorts of hustlers, charlatans, crooks, and predators seeking only to separate the player from his new found wealth. Some navigate these shark infested waters better than others but the stories are legion about how many players get sucked into deals and find themselves broke at the end of their playing career.
Part of the problem is how society treats talented young athletes virtually from the time they first demonstrate superior athletic potential. The coddling of young athletes begins sometimes before high school and these athletes grow up in rarefied air. Collegiate scouts now begin seeking raw recruits while they are still in high school and via a number of scouting indexes and ranking metrics, rate some of the best high school athletes before they’ve ever shaved. There seems to be a correlation suggested in how a young athlete develops and relates to the world when from such an early age he receives glowing accolades and praise for what he can do on the football field. In some profound way the young boys that live in these protective bubbles of athletic renown do not develop all of the social skills that a mature life requires. This can be manifest in many ways and certainly can influence their relationships with and attitudes towards girls and women. This is not an excuse for domestic abuse, battery or child neglect and endangerment: not in any way. However, to simply dismiss it as a side issue without relevance is to ignorantly ignore an inconvenient truth.
For generations the slow-paced, easily understood game of baseball was considered our “National Pastime”. Somewhere along the way, likely more related to demographics tilting to the younger coupled with our increasingly aggressive culture, the much rougher, “tougher” game of football steadily arose to be the most popular spectator sport in America, hands down. We found a game to suit our blustery self-imagine and revel in its ferocity. Each drive, every possession of the ball could change everything. Each game completed with a victory was just another momentary achievement in a much longer campaign. There is always next week.
In no other sport are rivalries fiercer; fans in one city despise those from a rival’s city, at least on game day, as do warring factions bent by their own allegiance and loyalty. Putting aside some of the more tattered old analogies about this game, it remains fair to say that our brand of football - NFL Football - transcends much of what sports in general engender in a fan. Cities are defined by teams, not the other way around. Fan bases are known as “Nations” as in “Raider Nation” or “Giants Nation”.
Let’s face it, we are a violent people. We are a crude, course, aggressive, society swimming in a culture that awards, rewards and celebrates violence in all its myriad forms. It permeates every aspect of our culture in all forms of entertainment from movies to computer games. We talk a good game of in-your-face kick ass but shy away from the truth or try to masquerade it by packaging it in the name of sports and competition. But the truth, the nasty truth cannot be obscured, hidden, or painted over. The truth is on display 24/7 from coast to coast in every segment and strata of our diverse and disparate society.
We are Jerry Springer, Maury Povich, Cops, Lock-up, truTV, Jackass, reality program addicted voyeurs. We are WWE smack down, body slamming, chair throwing, foul-mouthed buffoons. We are MMA knock out, choke out, knock your teeth out, tap out, ground and pound, bare-knuckle, street, cage and ‘ghetto’ fighting crowds cheering for blood and guts with gusto equal to Romans at the Coliseum.
And then we have our valued and vaunted NFL, our most revered spectator sport, football – American Football. None of that hands-off soccer bullshit for us; no siree. We are blindsiding, shoot the gaps, blitzing, man-on-man coverage junkies on game day. With mouths agape, beer in hand with our kids in the other room playing Grand Theft Auto on the latest digital device honing their marksmanship skills and becoming increasingly desensitized, we wait for the next late hit, quarterback sack, crack back, bell-ringing, head shot, take him down at the knees, brain rattling run up the middle. And, in many ways there is nothing inherently wrong with this. Football played on the NFL level is something to behold, the physical abilities of the men who earn their living as professional football players are nothing short of amazing.
THE DEMISE OF THE NFL IS PREMATURE (IF NOT NAÏVE’)
There are some prognosticators, pundits and observers forecasting that this time may be a seminal “watershed” moment for the NFL as we know it. This is not likely to be the “beginning of the end” for the NFL any more than scandals that have plagued sports from baseball to boxing in the past. Yes, the NFL will undergo and extensive image repairing campaign, donate lavishly to all the “right” causes, say all the politically correct buzzwords and the game will go on without missing a stride. The NFL just like the power banks on Wall Street is simply “too big to fail”.
The League has already made several announcements regarding where they go from here with their policies about domestic abuse. They have hired a four women panel as ad hoc advisory committee whose effectiveness may not be accessible for some time to come. The megabuck sponsors will flock back once the coast is clear. The pot is far too broad and deep to keep them from getting their cut of the revenue stream. Business will return to business until the next scandalous episode.
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