Last on a list of things the National Football League needs is another star player caught on tape in a domestic violence incident.
After former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was recorded in an Atlantic City casino elevator decking his then-fiancee Janay Palmer, the league was rightly criticized for not doing enough around the issue. The NFL responded by rebranding its social stances with a public-relations effort to protect its $15 billion business from sinking even slightly.
The advertisements were aired throughout last season and during the Super Bowl to distance the league from such violence, tantamount to thuggery. All that effort, time, money and energy whatever you think of its altruism or effectiveness could be washed away and badly injured if a rumored video of Dallas Cowboys star wide receiver Dez Bryant surfaces.
Media reports, blogs and social media have been ablaze for the past week with rumors that Bryant was recorded following an incident at a Wal-Mart in Lancaster, Texas. The police report alleges that a black woman, Bryants girlfriend, was seen being dragged from one car to another by a black male in the store parking lot. The car she was dragged into, a black Mercedes-Benz, is registered to Bryant.
Read more: Nothing Can Tackle NFL Money Train, Not Domestic Violence, Murder or Child Abuse
Though two NFL insiders only recently revealed rumors of the videos existence to the general sporting public, reports of the incident have swirled around the league and sports media circles for months. Here’s where the story gets tricky: No one has actually seen it or knows what exactly is on the tape or if it even exists.
The rumored tape could stem from the 2011 police report, and was possibly recorded by store cameras, yet it has not surfaced. Outlets including Deadspin have offered to purchase the video.
Unfortunately, for the suits at the NFL’s Park Avenue offices in New York, even a rumored video of Bryant connected to domestic violence could reignite that same firestorm of criticisms. Rumors have power, and this especially because it surrounds the Dallas Cowboys dubbed “Americas Team” and serious issues of domestic violence plus even a possible cover-up or blackmail of the star player while he was trying to cash in on millions with a lucrative contract.
Its become the perfect storm. Bryant was looking to sign a multi-year deal, but this week was offered a franchise-friendly one-year agreement. If Cowboys management did have a reason to play hardball with the star wide out, this would be an optimal time. Team owner Jerry Jones and his son, Stephen, the vice president, say the tape does not exist.
Read more: Oscar Pistorius, Ray Rice and the World of Domestic Violence
A similarly rumored incident revolving around Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, where he was alleged to have raped a woman in a bar bathroom in 2010, garnered much attention, too, but not the all-out speculation that Bryants only rumored video tape and police incident have attracted. Sports and regular media, including myself, are digging for the video and ready to pounce on the NFL for yet another off-field incident. Can you blame us/them?
The NFL has a serious violence problem, and its obvious to anyone outside the league. While its unfair to condemn Bryant for this particular still-just-a-rumor video, the league must get its own house in order before an actual, tangible video of a player committing a crime surfaces. Bryant has previously had run-ins with the law, perhaps most infamously when he was arrested for pushing his mother in 2012.
What explains NFL players’ oft-violent behavior away from the field? Does the colliding-nature of football make athletes more likely to become violent? Its quite possible, but I find that too easy an explanation. Football is violent but so is hockey.
More likely, it’s because football players are huge international and high-paid stars and many, for some reason, think they will face no consequences for their actions. The league needs to aggressively pursue these cases, even where there is only suspicion because its the countrys favorite sport. Instead of waiting for another bombshell to drop and then react, the NFL needs a massive or more effective outreach and to bring consequences to a defined standard of punishment, as well as more work with domestic violence prevention and victim advocacy groups.
NFL suits act like they think the party will never end, but all things do, and the league can’t stay the Teflon don forever. Eventually an incident is bound to stick and hurt its reputation, especially among women, who are increasingly viewers and do much of the familial planning and organizing around watching the NFL as a family event.
The league should begin preparing for that possibility and guard its butt, especially with so many women in this country supporting the sport. Viewers of any gender are unlikely to continue tolerating incidents of violence or even its suspicion and tacit approval by the league.
Noah Zuss is a reporter for TheBlot Magazine.