by Ron Borges
Talk of Fame Network
“Follow the money” is a standard philosophy in investigative journalism. This week the money led the NFL to make the right choice but it also indicted it for what it has become: A league that has lost its way.
We all need money to live, to run our businesses, to enjoy life. But when money rules your every thought inevitably it leads to an alarming result: You stop thinking. Your moral compass is negated by greed. The arrogance of power makes you believe Abe Lincoln was wrong, and you can fool all the people all the time. Instead of asking what would Jesus do, the NFL asked what would a marketing genius do?
This is a sad fact we’ve seen repeated time and again in both public and private life. The latest time has been over the past two weeks.
The Minnesota Vikings’ decision, in conjunction with the Commissioner’s office, to place Adrian Peterson on the exempt list pending resolution of child abuse charges leveled against him barely 24 hours after reactivating him and clumsily claiming the issue was about “disciplining a child,” exposed again that the NFL has become a place where expediency rules, b.s. dominates and doing the right thing happens only after all else fails.
The Vikings and the NFL took action only after clearly being threatened by its major sponsors: Budweiser, McDonalds, Pepsico, Visa, Bridgestone Tires and Campbell Soup. Only Radisson hotels actually pulled its sponsorship deal with the Vikings, but all made clear they didn’t like being associated with a media circus and absurd intransigence in the face of video evidence of both domestic violence in the case of Ray Rice and child abuse in Peterson’s case.
Budweiser has spent $149 million on Super Bowl ads alone the past 5 years and has a six-year, $1.2 BILLION ad deal with the NFL. It’s a local sponsor for 24 of the NFL’s 32 teams. When it says “we are not yet satisfied with the league’s handling of behaviors that so clearly go against our own company culture and moral code,” ALARM BELLS go off. Unfortunately for Commissioner Roger Goodell, they went off in his head far too late.
The players union now finds itself in the ticklish predicament of appealing Ray Rice’s indefinite suspension for wife beating but dodged a bullet when both Peterson and Carolina Panthers’ Pro Bowl defensive end Greg Hardy, who was convicted by a North Carolina judge of domestic violence but is appealing to a full jury trial, declined to appeal being put on the league’s exempt list until their issues are resolved. Why would they? They receive full pay without having to play, like a policeman on administrative leave until charges against him are sorted out.
The NFLPA has no choice in the Rice case because its legal responsibility is to represent players in such disputes. Frankly, it is likely to win Rice’s appeal based on double jeopardy. Rice was suspended for two games for his violent assault on his now wife, a slap on the wrist insulting to everyone’s intelligence. When an elevator video of the incident became public that most reasonable people have concluded the NFL had NO interest in procuring (all they had to do was ask the casino for it), Goodell brought down the hammer and suspended the now fired Rice indefinitely. Unfortunately for him that hammer hit him and the NFL harder than Rice.
Similarly inconsistent handling of domestic abuse charges involving Hardy and San Francisco 49ers’ defensive lineman Ray McDonald only made things worse. The result has been that the NFL looks like it is not only an organization indifferent to family violence but one blinded by money and responsive only to the demands of those who have it.
That includes its sponsors. But belatedly someone figured out it also includes women, who an NFL-commissioned study last year found are not only 45% of the league’s fan base but influence 85% of the purchasing decisions related to disposable income among NFL fans.
“We understand,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said in a statement after Budweiser’s announcement and the Vikings’ reversed field on Peterson.
We’ll see if they do, but Roger Goodell surely understands this: he’s on the hot seat. He’ll be the last to go because that’s how it works in corporate America, where the sins of the bosses are visited upon the workers. But if the NFL tries to issue a whitewash of how that video landed in its office on April 9, and no one noticed and sponsors react adversely to an underling getting the axe, the owners will take him out too. Of one thing you can be sure, the axe will swing as high as those owners feel necessary to keep the sponsorship dollars flowing.
In the end, as things have turned out, Dallas Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban was right last year when he said the NFL was facing a potential “implosion,” born of arrogance, overexposure and greed. Whether owners realize it yet or not, that moment has come not because an employee hit his fiancée or beat his 4-year-old son bloody. It’s because the arrogance of power and money made them all blind to what’s right and what’s wrong.
Photo courtesy of National Football League