Commentary

NFL Scrambles As Pressure Mounts

As disenchanted fans and committed critics alike excoriate the National Football League on social media, and media outlets continue to probe what its officials knew when about the elevator tapes of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice slugging his then-fiancée in an elevator, the enterprise’s billion-dollar question is what will the advertisers do. 

“Sponsors such as Nike and Electronic Arts have ended their relationship with Ray Rice, but, so far, the sponsors whose big bucks help fuel the NFL are standing by the league,” blogs the Washington Post’s Cindy Boren. 

“That doesn’t mean they aren’t monitoring the situation,” she continues, or “… that women’s groups won’t be pressuring sponsors to pull out the dollars they shell out for advertising on TV and elsewhere. The possibility that the league’s bottom line might be affected is the biggest threat to [Roger] Goodell’s future as commissioner.”

Meanwhile, Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam yesterday called Goodell a man of “very high integrity” while announcing that the company would partner with the NFL to create a domestic-violence awareness program, Bloomberg’s Crayton Harrison reports.

“I worry less about the fans than the sponsors in the short term,” Paul Swangard, managing director of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon, tellsUSA Today’s David Leon Moore. “…Sponsors could and should be wary because they have a lot to lose by any backlash that does emerge.”

An Anheuser-Busch spokesperson tells Moore that it has “no comment on the situation at this time.” PepsiCo says: “Domestic violence is completely unacceptable. We are encouraged to see the NFL is now treating this with the seriousness it deserves.”

The NFL image problem has been fueled by questions of its credibility, which was already strained by its position regarding concussions. The commissioner’s office says none of its executives actually saw the tape of what transpired inside the elevator until it was posted to TMZ on Monday; an unnamed law enforcement source claims otherwise in a widely published AP story. On Wednesday, the NFL named former FBI director Robert Mueller to lead an investigation into its action.

On Wednesday, the National Organization for Women called for Goodell’s ouster, “saying in a statement the league has ‘lost its way,’” CBS News reported in a story that also covered an ardent defense of the commissioner by New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft on “CBS This Morning.”

Indeed, some see Goodell as a $44.2-million-a-year straw man for the real powers that be. 

“The notion that, as NFL commissioner, he is the most powerful man in sports should be retired with the nobility of playing through concussions,” writes Phil Rosenthal in the Chicago Tribune. “The owners are Goodell’s bosses. They are the bosses. This isn’t the typical bane of corporate America, the too-complacent lap dog board bending to the will of the executive. Goodell didn’t make $44.2 million in 2012 by telling his overlords what to do, but by making them richer and more powerful.”

“Ray Rice is the NFL’s Katrina,” writes Scott Ostler on SF Gate. “The supreme leader is slow to react, then treats the crisis casually, truth and honesty and honor get trampled, greed/insensitivity/incompetence run amok. People get hurt. And maybe — hopefully — we all learn something and grow as a nation.”

Even the Mueller appointment is being questioned. In a Los Angeles Times commentary, Sam Farmer writes that although Mueller is undoubtedly qualified, he comes with several conflicts of interest and suggests the league “needs to be careful not to punch another hole in the hull.”

“As ProFootballTalk’s Mike Florio points out, Mueller works for the law firm, WilmerHale, that recently helped the NFL negotiate a multibillion-dollar deal with DirecTV,” Farmer writes. “ESPN points out that the firm previously represented Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder, and it’s the former firm of Dick Cass, president of the Baltimore Ravens, Rice’s former team.”

Meanwhile, even as 16 female senators sent a letter to Goodell “requesting that the NFL adopt a zero-tolerance policy against domestic violence,” fans such as Adrian Beale showed up at the Ravens game against the Pittsburgh Steelers last night wearing jerseys emblazoned with Rice’s No. 27. 

“That’s none of my business. Families go through that stuff every day,” Beale tells Kent Babb in the Washington Post.

Also in the Washington Post, Mike Wise yesterday called for Goodell to step down before Sunday’s games are played. “It comes down to this: If Goodell’s league cannot better protect battered women, what good is this moral armor Goodell has the audacity to call ‘The Shield’?” 

The Shield is the “Official Brand of the NFL.”

Wise went on to quote Elie Wiesel, “the activist who survived three concentration camps, [who] once said: ‘The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.’”

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