There is a lot of moral indignation about the NFL’s clement treatment of its women beaters and child abusers. People want Commissioner Roger Goodell fired because of 1) his misapplied mercy, and 2) that he may have lied about what he knew about one specific woman beater. They want really bad stuff to happen to Ray Rice, Greg Hardy, Ray McDonald and Adrian Peterson, too.
This all sounds nice but it doesn’t matter unless people don’t buy tickets to the games or watch them on TV. It’s also imperative that advertisers pull out as well to, you know, preserve the illusion that they care about what’s right more than being rich.
So far, little of that has happened. Radisson Hotels, however, did yank its sponsorship of the Minnesota Vikings after having its company’s logo serve as the backdrop to press conferences about men who beat 4-year-olds with sticks.
Radisson’s statement: “Radisson takes this matter very seriously particularly in light of our long-standing commitment to the protection of children. We are closely following the situation and effective immediately, Radisson is suspending its limited sponsorship of the Minnesota Vikings while we evaluate the facts and circumstances.”
The best part about the statement is “in light of our long-standing commitment to the protection of children,” as if that’s the first thing everyone thinks about when they think about Radisson Hotels and not this scene in Fargo.
Other companies also are “monitoring the situation.” This line is used when shit escalates past “no comment.” Companies will stop monitoring only when things become financially untenable.
It will be interesting to see how far the outrage goes. Other than a few suspensions and Radisson killing its Viking sponsorship, nothing’s changed. Will people quit the NFL? Probably not, because America’s NFL love is unconditional.
A cursory glance at attendance numbers through Week 2 of this season, not including Monday night’s game between the Eagles and the Colts, show that people still dig the NFL, regardless of whether its players allegedly punch pregnant women (Ray McDonald, who played Sunday), threaten to murder their ex-girlfriends (Greg Hardy, who did not play Sunday but was going to until the last minute) or beat their children so hard, doctors report them to police (Peterson, who was suspended, then not suspended, then suspended again).
Ten of the NFL’s 27 teams that have had home games this season have drawn better than 100 percent of their stadium’s capacity. No team has drawn less than 85.6 percent of its stadium’s capacity.
On TV, Thursday night’s game between the Steelers and the Ravens drew a 13.7 rating, which was CBS’s best number for a Thursday prime time since May 18, 2006. The 13.7 also was an 108 percent increase over the rating of the same game last year, which, to be fair, was broadcast on the NFL’s channel and not network television.
This is interesting because the moral indignation started with Goodell’s lenient two-game suspension of Ray Rice, who punched his to-be wife unconscious in an elevator and played running back for the Ravens, until the team caved (after a series of all-star PR whiffs) and released him. The NFL suspended him indefinitely.
This wasn’t because the NFL wants to do the right thing — no major company does; just look at McDonald’s, which denies its employees are really its employees so it doesn’t have to pay them — but because people are really mad and may stop buying stuff.
The league hasn’t done anything to Hardy, McDonald or Peterson and it doesn’t have to because no one really cares. The conduct of the NFL players doesn’t matter. People are going to watch anyway. They did this weekend.
All that moral indignation? It’s just words on the Internet.
The Super Bowl is the greatest of secular holidays, and in 2013 the NFL made about $10 billion off of us. Peyton Manning, who throws a ball for living, is, according to Forbes, valued at about $61 million. In 2012, Manning, the Denver Broncos’ quarterback, made $15 million in salary for throwing that ball. This isn’t his fault. There is a market for men who throw footballs really well, and Manning, champion of capitalism, is meeting the need.
For more on the NFL’s finances, read this Atlantic article from last year. The NFL, if you didn’t know, is a non-profit organization and doesn’t really pay taxes. It also doesn’t really pay for its billion-dollar stadiums. We, the commoners who pay many hundreds of dollars to go to the stadiums, do. This is true for a lot of professional sports, though, so it’s not just the NFL that’s having its way with us.
But people love football. This means that Goodell, unless that third-party report is too damning, probably isn’t losing his $44 million job as the league’s fluffer-in-chief. He’s helped the NFL make more money than it ever has, although at this point, the NFL might be self-sustaining. This is evidenced by attendance numbers, TV ratings and the number of grown men who dress up like their favorite players on Sunday afternoons.
The NFL could have suspended none of these players and the effect on its profit line likely would have been negligible. People are going to watch. Fans don’t seem to care how much athletes pillage, rape and plunder — and neither does the NFL or its teams, really.
It’s fair to assume that Adrian Peterson was going to play next week not out of respect for due process and an ongoing investigation, but because the Vikings are more likely to win with a former MVP at running back. He didn’t play Sunday and the Vikings lost 30-7 to the Patriots. And winning equals more money — although it is possible to lose and make money, as Donald Sterling proved when he owned the Clippers.
The Vikings subsequently reversed their decision on Peterson’s eligibility and explained it with a bullshit statement from its owners Zygi and Mark Wilf, who are building a billion-dollar stadium that is half-financed by the public.
“While we were trying to make a balanced decision yesterday, after further reflection we have concluded that this resolution is best for the Vikings and for Adrian. We want to be clear: we have a strong stance regarding the protection and welfare of children, and we want to be sure we get this right.”
But really, they just don’t want to lose money. This is similar to how Chick-fil-A, citing religious belief, donated money to organizations that try to repurpose gays into heterosexuals with fantasy science, until Chick-fil-A realized gay people like chicken sandwiches, too, and promptly backtracked because, unlike the company’s religious conviction, profit margins are real.
But for NFL fans, it’s about fantasy teams, jersey sales and next year’s installment of Madden. The players in sports don’t mean much. The majority serve their purpose only to be cast off by their employers and fans at the end of their usefulness.
Athletes are disposable entertainment — so disposable that fans get mad at referees for enforcing rules intended to reduce the risk of head trauma. Check Twitter after any targeting call. Hyperbole abounds about how soft the game is now — how you can’t hit anybody — and then someone compares football to soccer, because, you know, only pansies get chronic traumatic encephalopathy and commit suicide.
The NFL doesn’t care. The “brand” — a flaccid euphemism — led by Goodell, spent millions of dollars to not pay for the injuries its players sustained while making billions of dollars for the brand.
For the fans, it’s about entertainment. For the NFL, it’s about money. That’s the disconnect. People want it both ways but the NFL isn’t going to be a moral paragon because it doesn’t have to be — and we don’t really want it to be, either.
The NFL is about, like anything, self-preservation, not justice — just like any organization that hides behind a “no comment” and demures because of some “ongoing investigation.” Like when a university makes its players off-limits after a scandal involving that university, tacitly implying that it knows what’s best for the kids, even though it just invented a class so its secondary could be academically eligible.
Another fun example is when coaches talk about accountability, honor and integrity (which is all the time) and then duck and/or become enraged by questions about their or their players’ accountability, honor and integrity.
Until less money goes to the NFL, its sovereigns and its advertisers as the result of the players’ criminal behavior, the league, like any brand, will put out another decorous statement and continue on like nothing happened.