Professional football has been the most popular sport in the United States for 30 straight years. Of the fifty most valuable sports franchises in the world, 30 are National Football League (NFL) teams. This year’s Super Bowl, in which the New England Patriots defeated the Seattle Seahawks 28-24, was the most-watched television program in U.S. history with more than 114 million viewers.
An NFL-sponsored anti-domestic-violence campaign, entitled NO MORE, aired a commercial during this year’s Super Bowl. The sole purpose of the advertisement was to aid the league’s PR. As an organization, they have no need to aspire to anything more.
NO MORE is, in fact, structured for this purpose alone. Cofounded by one of the NFL’s crisis management consultants, they claim to promote awareness about the issue of domestic violence and help channel funding to other more active organizations. Unsurprisingly, however, they are sponsored by numerous large corporations and are not a nonprofit organization. Instead, the NFL and others use this brand to profit from Commissioner of the National Football League Roger Goodell’s mishandling of domestic violence scandals.
This speaks directly to the brilliance of the NFL: not only are they capable of improving their image, but they can make money doing it.
Addressing the crux of the domestic violence issue is of no use to the NFL. Moreover, they have no responsibility to do so. In particular, the league does not have a responsibility to discipline any individual player. Questions of law should be addressed by law enforcement, and questions of character may be addressed by the individual’s employer—the team.
Ray Rice, for example, was cut by the Baltimore Ravens after they learned of his incident of domestic violence and deemed him to be detrimental to the team. His degenerative behavior dramatically affected his personal reputation, and it would have affected the team had they not cut him. The NFL, however, should not have anything to do with such matters, since the severity of his actions were enough to cost him his employment.
Even after Rice was reinstated by the NFL nearing the postseason, he was not signed by another team. No team believed his talent on the field outweighed his reputation off the field. Similarly, Adrian Peterson’s case might have been different if he had won his appeal. A team would likely decide that his talent outweighs the negative press he would bring to their team as a result of his potentially abusive actions against his children.
Regardless, the NFL’s unrelinquishing domination of the American sports landscape results in anything related to professional football becoming an instant headline. This is a result of the population’s obsession with all things NFL rather than an interest in the subject matter of the headlines themselves.
The media’s infatuation with Seattle Seahawks’ running back Marshawn Lynch is emblematic of this obsession. An endless fascination revolves around Lynch’s refusal to answer questions asked by the often formulaic and redundant sports reporters. Lynch frequently repeats a single response to each question posed. At his mandatory press conference before the Super Bowl, he simply repeated, “I’m here so I won’t get fined.” Beyond plugging his charity events, he only spoke openly during a mock press conference for Skittles.
While the attention given to Lynch is on par with that to the Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson domestic violence scandals, the subject matter is obviously wholly different. But the NFL stands to benefit from any and all attention, regardless of substance, whether it surrounds domestic violence or Skittles.
When fans are particularly interested in the topics at hand and listenership increases, logically so does ad revenue. This increase in revenue, while secondarily benefiting the NFL itself (as most of the money, in this example, would go to CBS, NBC and the like), ultimately benefits the NFL’s prominence and popularity on the whole.
Similarly, the sole responsibility of the NFL is to maintain, if not increase, its profits, market share and overall popularity. For this reason, the league probably likes Lynch’s antics with the media, even though they continually threaten to fine him. The domestic violence cases are not entirely different in that the NFL only cares about the image it projects, which does not entail actively addressing the issue.
Employment and legality are separate issues: the league need not attempt to act beyond law enforcement, nor should they infringe on the individual teams’ ability to employ free agents. However, the NFL’s primary concern will always be its value and popularity, and a strong, profitable NFL ultimately benefits all 32 teams.
With the soaring viewership and consistent increase in teams’ valuations, it is unlikely that any of this season’s scandals adversely affected the league. The media and public’s obsession with the NFL shows no evidence of dissipation, and professional football will continue to thrive in the United States.
Dylan Bordonaro is a junior Politics major. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @spopolmedia.