Tuesday, September 16, 2014

What a mess

   If star players beating their wives and children doesn't force the National Football League to get serious, this might: the Radisson hotel chain has terminated its relationship with the Minnesota Vikings after the team reinstated All Pro running back Adrian Peterson, who's facing child abuse charges.
   Money talks, and in the upper echelons of corporate culture, it's the only voice.  The NFL cares about domestic violence only in the context of how it potentially affects the bottom line, and when a major corporate sponsor pulls the pin, the alert status moves to DEFCON 1.       
   The challenge for league commissioner Roger Goodell and his minions is to come up with a public relations game plan that doesn't come across as disingenuous or contrived.  Between routine criminal arrests of players, sexual assault allegations against Dallas owner Jerry Jones, Bountygate in New Orleans and the callous mishandling of the concussion epidemic, there's such a wide swath of damaging PR in the NFL's recent history that changing public perception of the pro football culture is like turning an aircraft carrier around in a phone booth.  It doesn't help when a player of the stature of New England quarterback Tom Brady refuses to get involved in the process, saying social activism isn't what he signed up for.
   Sadly, the NFL's best hope is fan apathy - not apathy about football itself, but about the peripheral scandals that have damaged the league's image.  As long as television ratings remain high, fans continue to buy tickets and merchandise, and profits don't suffer, the league's corporate partners will ride the gravy train to hell and back, and principled stands like Radisson's will be the exception rather than the rule.

Update: At least eight NFL advertising partners have now acted in the wake of the Adrian Peterson/Ray Rice domestic violence incidents.  Drug maker Mylan has cancelled an endorsement deal with Peterson, Nike is pulling Peterson jerseys from select outlets, and Anaheuser Busch, McDonald's, Visa, Campbell Soup and Cover Girl have all issued statements putting the NFL on watch.  Of the eight, only Radisson and Mylan are taking a credible moral stand, and their action is at the local level.  Without putting their money where their mouth is, Anheuser Busch, McDonald's, Visa, Campbell Soup and Cover Girl are offering nothing more than cynical, self-serving corporate platitudes, while Nike's half measures and long history of profiting off Third World child labor and substandard working conditions preclude it from the moral high ground.  

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