Forget the protests by angry women’s groups. Ignore all those politicians’ demands for tougher sanctions against abusers. Now the NFL must placate its most serious critics: the advertisers who have made so many players multimillionaires and so many owners billionaires.
In the previous season, advertisers spent a reported $3.9 billion to run their commercials during NFL games. At the top of the heap is Anheuser-Busch InBev NV (ABI), which has committed $1.2 billion over a six-year period to make its Bud Light the official brew of the NFL. So when the company says it is “increasingly concerned” by reports of domestic violence, you can bet the honchos in the league offices sit up and pay attention.
The maker of Budweiser and other brews issued a statement saying, “We are not yet satisfied with the league’s handling of behaviors that so clearly go against our own company culture and moral code.” In response, the league office replied, “We understand. We are taking action and there will be much more to come.”
The league got a black eye, if you’ll pardon the expression, over the way it handled disclosures that Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice had knocked out his then-fiancée in a casino elevator. When a video was released showing Rice dragging the unconscious woman out of the elevator, the league responded by suspending him for two games.
Then a video emerged taken inside that casino elevator. It showed Price delivering a knock-out punch to the woman who is now his wife, Janay Palmer. The brutality of the incident caused a national outcry against the NFL’s admittedly mild punishment of the athlete. The Baltimore Ravens responded by dropping Rice from the team. And NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell increased Rice’s suspension to a full year.
The controversy might have quieted down a bit when another incident erupted. Adrian Peterson, the all-star running back for the Minnesota Vikings, was indicted by a grand jury in Texas on a felony charge of child abuse. It seems Peterson “disciplined” his 4-year-old son by whipping him with a switch so severely that it left welt marks on the youngster’s back and legs.
Peterson has apologized profusely for his actions. He issued a carefully worded statement that said, in part:
I have to live with the fact that when I disciplined my son the way I was disciplined as a child, I caused an injury that I never intended or thought would happen. I know that many people disagree with the way I disciplined my child.
The athlete went on to defend the way his parents had disciplined him:
But deep in my heart I have always believed I could have been one of those kids that was lost in the streets without the discipline instilled in me by my parents and other relatives. I have always believed that the way my parents disciplined me has a great deal to do with the success I have enjoyed as a man.
I’ll bet a whole bunch of people who were raised by parents who also believed “spare the rod, spoil the child” agreed with Peterson. In fact, Fox TV host Sean Hannity took off his belt during his show and beat his desk with it, to demonstrate how his own father had disciplined him. “And I deserved it,” Hannity declared.
In all this latest hullabaloo, one thing I haven’t heard is exactly what Peterson’s son did to warrant the beating he received. The kid is just 4 years old. How vile could his actions possibly have been?
The Minnesota Vikings suspended Peterson, then reinstated him, then placed him “on the Exempt/Commissioner’s Permission list, which will require that Adrian remain away from all team activities while allowing him to take care of his personal situation until the legal proceedings are resolved.”
With all of the controversy, one thing that hasn’t changed is the American public’s total infatuation with professional football. Of the seven most-watched TV programs last week, six of them were NFL games. After the Rice scandal broke, viewership of “Sunday Night Football” went up 8 percent, for a total of 22 million viewers.
With the rewards of fame and fortune going higher and higher, and players getting bigger, faster and tougher, only an idiot would expect the incidents of violence, on and off the field, to go down.
We love our bread and circuses, don’t we? Even if it means that some of our gladiators occasionally go berserk.
What a sad commentary on what this country has become.
Until next time, keep some powder dry.