Imagine if liberals invented a sport. What would it look like? What rules would govern the game? Would it be fun and competitive or would it be just another forum for their lowest common denominator policies to level the playing field, thus eliminating those pesky traits of personal achievement and physical greatness from athletic competition? Or, would they use it as a forum to advocate for their pet causes, which all too often exposes the hypocrisy of liberalism once a scandal erupts to shed light on the subject?
America might not have long to wait, because the NFL is doing a capital job at becoming the nation’s bastion of identity politics gone mad, which would not be complete without the obligatory eruption of hypocrisy. If this keeps up, the NFL will join the list of formerly great American institutions and innovations laid low by liberal guilt along with the public schools system, fast food, the incandescent light bulb, and the SUV.
For years, the NFL has been engaged in advocacy programs housed under its NFL and the Community program. Fans of the sport have become used to “pink Octobers,” when penalty flags, players’ sneakers, and field lines all don the hot pink of breast cancer awareness.
Aren’t we all aware of breast cancer by now?
Maybe I don’t do the awareness thing well. I never wear colored bracelets to denote my concern over AIDS, autism or cancer but I also never wear an American flag lapel pin. That omission doesn’t make me any less of a patriot, just like the lack of coral ties or salmon colored horn rimmed glasses doesn’t mean that Vince Lombardi wasn’t in the least bit concerned with breast cancer.
It’s very telling that the 60% of fans who are men have to search high and low to find some recognition by the NFL of their gender-specific cancer risk, prostate cancer. In fact, the league website has its own separate page and initiative devoted to breast cancer, while prostate cancer gets only a link to another, independent website. No initiative from the league on prostate cancer, just a hyperlink urging men to get screened. Is it possible the league is mainly concerned with subsets of fans in which it sees the greatest potential market growth? Not only is it possible, but being more sensitive to women’s needs has been expressly admitted to by the NFL’s chief marketing officer, Mark Waller, in 2009 when he said that the league would begin “listening to [women’s] needs much more aggressively and really trying to get under the skin of what needs they have and what can we do better” around the same time that Commission Roger Goodell set his aggressive growth prediction that the league would be a $25 billion dollar business by 2027. Coincidence? As the witches of Macbeth said, “something wicked this way comes…”
You don’t even have to be a cynic to believe this. The initiatives are self-admittedly all about expanding the league’s market base. It’s pretty shameless, in fact. The list of league initiatives reads like a manifesto of the Berkley student government: NFL Green (aimed at greening NFL facilities and events), NFL Play60 (an initiative dedicated to combating childhood obesity, sound familiar Michelle Obama?), and Futbol Americano (an awareness initiative coinciding with Hispanic Heritage Month). All of the de rigueur causes popular in Washington or college campuses across the country are also popular at league headquarters on Park Avenue.
Unlike the misguided undergraduates who are taken by Marx, Lenin and Rachel Carson, the NFL’s adherence to identity politics and green causes can’t be excused by “youthful idealism.” After all, it is a multi-billion dollar organization run by scores of lawyers. The NFL’s motivation is driven by the positive press these initiatives generate and, by extension, the good will this perceived largesse creates among the fan base. The NFL is wildly successful business – if any of these initiatives weren’t good for business, the league would not pursue them.
In typical “limousine liberal” fashion, the NFL espouses concern for a certain demographic of its fan base, or desired fan base, while reaping the financial rewards this charity buys them in the eyes of the general public. “Oh, the NFL cares about [insert initiative du jour here] – how nice! Let’s tune in on Sunday and see what color shoe laces Tom Brady and the boys will be wearing to denote their support.” Caring and intentions matter more these days than results or reality, so in the liberal equation the NFL has it right. Thus, on the backs of progressive activism, the NFL seeks to increase its profits aided in part by their non-profit status. If you were ever wondering about the definition of “irony…”
And then in the offseason, somebody like Ray Rice comes along to upset the applecart.
Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, Ray McDonald and Greg Hardy have really put the NFL in a bind. These men are in various phases of criminal proceedings related to individual acts of domestic violence or child abuse amidst the NFL’s appeal to increase the number of female fans and viewers it has.
The league was working so hard to appeal to women through its NFL Pink initiative. It has espoused concern for women and their health, yet when several allegations of domestic violence and child abuse percolated through the media din it was caught flatfooted and seemingly unable to articulate what the league’s policy on domestic violence among its players is. This is very surprising for an organization so committed to the plight of women.
At a September 19, 2014 press conference, Commissioner Roger Goodell did his best take personal responsibility for his and the league’s handling of the Ray Rice affair but his ultimate solution was…a series of new initiatives!
If the NFL is concerned with its image, it would realize that for many young Americans its players are in fact the role models that the Play 60 TVs ads make them out to be and act swiftly to maintain the image these role models produce. Of course it’s not fair that the actions of a few individuals should overshadow the immense good that so many of the players, coaches, and owners do for their communities, but such is the environment in which we live.
As such, the NFL needs to take a tougher stance on dealing with players when they break the law or league policy. Commissioner Goodell said that he had allowed Carolina Panthers defensive back Greg Hardy to play the first few games of the season because he was appealing the verdict in his criminal case. A verdict that found him guilty of attacking his girlfriend.
In the real world, guilty verdicts demand consequences but this is not the case in Roger Goodell’s NFL. The players make the league too much money so in Roger’s world you let the player play until the public pressure mounts and you have to put him on the commissioner’s exemption list. Put simply, if there is no video of your offense, then no problem. You can play. Talk to Ray Rice about videos.
So why has the domestic violence scandal exposed the fact that the NFL has relegated itself to liberal irrelevance? Well, for starters poor Roger Goodell is torn between satisfying his masters (the team owners) and maintaining the carefully crafted public image that has gotten millions of fans to take money from their own pockets and put it in the pockets of the owners. Preserving this balance is tricky under any circumstances, but especially so when organizations have appealed specifically to certain segments of the population which it then goes on to offend.
A more salient point is that the NFL has chosen to engage in identity politics through its initiatives and, as such, has boxed itself into a corner when it comes to instances in which events can show these initiatives to be hypocritical or crowd-pandering marketing ploys. The NFL Pink initiative trumpeted the league’s concern for women’s health and well-being for the past several years. The cases of domestic violence that have surfaced this year leave an impression that the NFL can’t manage the behavior of its own players in relation to their wives, girlfriends and children, so the league’s supposed concern for women via its initiatives runs the risk of being seen as faux lip service.
Americans are very forgiving, but they don’t suffer hypocrites well. The league and Commissioner Goodell’s ongoing response to this latest crisis will be scrutinized by the media and any group that wishes to make itself a stakeholder in this latest chapter of the politics of crisis, such as the National Organization of Women which has called for Goodell’s resignation.
At the September 19th press conference, the assembled reporters asked Goodell some very tough questions about his leadership of the league, and whether or not he would or should continue in his position. I can’t say that I agree with most of NOW’s views and I certainly have ideological and professional differences with most of the news and sports media, but it seems to me that Goodell would have no other choice but to resign if the league is gradually exposed for its hypocrisy.
This scandal may or may not be quietly swept aside as the glare of media scrutiny grows dim with each passing day and new sensationalized scandals hit the airwaves. What should remain is a realization among all NFL fans that despite the great joy we get from watching these games, it is just a business whose goal is to make money. That does not abrogate it or its players from the social and civic responsibility we would similarly expect from McDonald’s, BP, or the federal government.
We should also remember that the next time the NFL is “honest “with us and rolls out an initiative aimed at “really trying to get under the skin of what needs they have and what can we do better.”