Sept. 17 2014 09:33 AM

NFL will change its ways under public pressure

Adrian Peterson
Adrian Peterson
Photo by Mike Morbeck

    An interesting juxtaposition unfolded on MSNBC Monday evening. Directly after a segment on The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell about the rash of domestic-abuse cases involving National Football League players, Cox Communications aired two commercials in succession: one promoting Cox's cable football package and one for that sells stereotypically demure-yet-alluring Asian women as objects of fetish desire.

    We don't know exactly what market science goes into the decisions made jointly by Cox and its advertisers, but we know that advertising isn't completely haphazard; we're sold what we're expected to want. If Cox and aren't aimlessly chucking spaghetti at the wall to see if it sticks, we men apparently love football and see women as objects.

    A bit of a stretch? OK, sure. But it reminds us that we, as consumers, are the bosses. We call the shots. Theoretically, we have tremendous collective power over what happens in politics and in business.

    What's become as clear as an open field to a running back is that, every step of the way, the NFL and its franchises are doing as little as they can get away with in response to the spate of domestic violence that's captured the country's attention. The primary aim has been to protect the football institution and keep those billions of dollars flowing.

    In July, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice for two games for an assault on then-fiancée Janay Palmer in an elevator in February, the aftermath of which—Rice dragging Palmer's limp body into the hallway—was caught on video and shown to the public by TMZ. A grand jury indicted Rice on aggravated-assault charges in March, the day before he married Palmer. In the wake of criticism, Goodell in August said he'd been too lenient and announced that, going forward, first offenses of domestic violence would draw six-week suspensions. A public furor erupted last week when TMZ released a second video that showed Rice punching Palmer's lights out, and Goodell claimed that he'd suspended Rice for only two games because Rice had been ambiguous about what had really happened inside that elevator.

    But we now know that Rice unambiguously told Goodell in June that he'd punched Palmer so hard that he knocked her out cold. Goodell had made his decision not on what was just and right but on a public-relations calculation: the indictment and, more importantly, the first video were worth two games, regardless of what Rice had done. The second video was worth an indefinite suspension.

    Then there's the case of Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, who's been indicted by a grand jury on charges of reckless or negligent injury to a child. Peterson has admitted that he hit his 4-year-old son with a switch, a flexible piece of a tree branch fashioned to inflict pain as punishment. Once again, TMZ is in the middle of it, having released police photos of the little boy's body marked with numerous injuries. Peterson has apologized but insists he's not a child abuser, saying that this is simply how he administers discipline, because it's the way he was disciplined.

    The Vikings deactivated Peterson for last week's game, which turned into a lopsided loss to the New England Patriots, and, on Monday, decided to activate him for this Sunday's game in New Orleans. The team's owners had a change of heart, saying the best course of action is to let the legal system do its thing. Meanwhile, Peterson, one of the league's best players, will help the Vikings win and do his part to keep the money flowing. After the Vikings released their statement, news emerged of a previous alleged incident involving Peterson injuring another son, who was also 4 at the time.

    We can't conclusively say that the rate of domestic violence among NFL players is far out of line with the general population, but when you break that down further into socioeconomic classifications—that is, very wealthy men—it's extraordinarily high.

    Combating the problem in society at large is hard. Attacking the problem in the NFL is easier. Already, public pressure has forced the league to act. Is it enough for you? If not, and you're a football fan, you have power. If you can bite the bullet, you can turn off the TV. Do something extra-nice for your wife or girlfriend instead, or spend that time playing with your kids. 

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