The National Football League has a major problem on its hands. It is a problem that will threaten the entire brand if it is not dealt with immediately.
That problem is domestic violence.
Now, it might be a threat that seems far-fetched, given all that the league has survived. It has survived Michael Vick’s dog fighting scandal. It survived a huge concussion lawsuit and the aspects that led to it, such as the suicides of popular players like Junior Seau and Jovan Belcher.
And the NFL will survive the hell that has been this past week. It was a seven-day period that saw brutal footage of Ray Rice beating his fiancé-turned-wife, commissioner Roger Goodell being accused of lying about his knowledge of the footage and, finally, saw one of the league’s most well-liked and recognizable stars, Adrian Peterson, indicted for abusing his four-year-old son.
Definitely the worst week the league has seen in a long while.
And while the league will survive, it’s risking permanent damage to its image by continuing not to take these issues seriously.
Yes, it did suspend Rice indefinitely. But that is an action that would have had a lot more impact if it were done months ago, when Rice was initially indicted for the charge. Yes, Goodell did suspend him two games. But seeing as how smoking marijuana – which is legal in some states – will earn a player a four-game ban, that suspension seemed ridiculous and inadequate.
The league’s new policy regarding domestic abuse, which will now net first-time offenders a six-game suspension and two-time offenders a lifetime ban, was a good gesture but was also something that should have been implemented long ago. Making matters worse was the fact that the league just threw that new policy to the curb by indefinitely suspending Rice.
Days after the announcement of said policy, San Francisco 49ers defensive end Ray McDonald was arrested on suspicion of assaulting his pregnant girlfriend. Despite complaints from fans and even retired 49ers like Steve Young, the team has allowed him to play, and the league supported that decision.
What I – and many others – gather from that judgment is that if the league doesn’t have explicit visual evidence of the crime, it has no interest on immediately acting on it.
That’s absolutely asinine.
The NFL is a business. It’s a business with a reach that spans the entire globe. Therefore, it is heavily scrutinized by the media and its fans.
The league needs to think about how these incidents are going to affect its fan base: especially the female portion of that base. Women represent about 45 percent of NFL fans, according to Scarborough Research. Does the league honestly think it’s going to keep that portion intact if these acts continue to happen and go improperly punished?
I certainly don’t think so.
And then there’s the matter of the NFL fans of tomorrow: children. The NFL is very appealing to kids because the players are seen as super heroes of sorts, heroes who characterize strength, athleticism and toughness. Children want to be like them. One has to worry that future generations will try to be too much like them.
It seems extreme, but it is a very real possibility.
Despite all the negativity surrounding the league and its enormously disliked commissioner, the NFL has a simple path to making this issue a lot less prevalent without dishonorably discharging Goodell.
Drop the hammer.
Amend the current abuse policy. If a player is indicted for domestic assault, immediately ban him indefinitely. It will send the message to the fans and, more importantly, to the players that the league is not screwing around. If zero tolerance is the only way to get through to these players and make them realize that playing in the NFL is a privilege – not a right – then so be it.
It’s important to differentiate between “indefinite” and “permanent” here, as an indefinite ban would leave the door open for players who the legal process finds not guilty to possibly return.
However, if players truly value their jobs, perhaps this proposed policy will make them think long and hard before they make any rash decisions that would put them in that kind of position in the first place.
Again, it all might seem extreme; but the NFL is in desperate times, and it’s time to act.