It seems no amount of off-field controversy can derail the NFL money train.
Despite a litany of serious incidents during the past year, some violent and quite disturbing, and a U.S. senator doing his best to chastise the league in a strongly worded letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, by Sunday’s Super Bowl kickoff time, more than 114 million viewers tuned in to watch the big game.
That so many still watched is hardly surprising. America has an NFL addiction. It seems no matter the seriousness of its controversies the past year — which ranged from the New England Patriots’ “Deflate Gate” to domestic violence and child abuse charges to allegations of sexual assault and even a murder trial — nothing can stop the world from watching and buying NFL products or the league from stacking up piles of money. Its annual revenues rack up roughly $10 billion.
Adding to Goodell’s off-field fires at his feet the week before the NFL’s showcase weekend and main event was Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal criticism of the league’s response and commitment toward combatting domestic violence. He blasted the league for its paltry $5 million donation to anti-domestic violence campaigns and specifically fired away at the NFL’s day-late-and-dollar-short attempt to cover its ass with a new public service announcement that aired during the Super Bowl. It was the first such PSA sponsored by the league.
But in the eye of the storm, Goodell is ducking and hiding. He did answer reporters’ questions at the state of the league address during Super Bowl week, but refused to appear with NBC pre-game host Bob Costas, a cowardly act in the face of legitimate questions for the league’s top official. President Barack Obama had time for an interview that aired Sunday before the game, but Goodell didn’t? What is wrong with this picture?
Goodell, who has previously been quite strident in his punishments of players and in defense of the NFL has been quite quiet, but this silence comes at the absolute worst time. Not speaking or addressing the multiple controversies doesn’t help. It hurts Goodell’s credibility, but unfortunately he will most likely remain at the helm because the owners enjoy lining their pockets with gold.
In his letter, Blumenthal wrote:
“Although I am glad the NFL has recognized the necessity of addressing this issue, [5 million annually] is barely a fraction of the financial support needed by organizations that every day provide shelter, counseling, and education across the country.
“Compared with the $10 million per year that is spent on its Super Bowl halftime show — not to mention the $5 billion the NFL earns each year in television rights – this amount seems terribly insufficient. If the NFL is serious about its commitment to combatting domestic violence, it could contribute many times more.”
That the league would expect a pat on the back for donating $5 million — especially when some of its players make many, many times that — is pretty ridiculous. It seems that its players can’t go 24 hours without being arrested for some not-petty thing like smoking weed, but often violent crimes like rape, sexual assault and even homicide.
Blumenthal was right to blast the NFL for wanting kudos after it slept on this problem for years and is only now playing lip service to the issue. The only reason Ray Rice — who infamously knocked out his then fiancée and now-wife Janay Palmer — was even given a long suspension is because of the public backlash that greeted Goodell’s earlier declaration that punching her was only worth two games.
Throughout this past season, the league has put out fires to quell off-field controversies, and the public seemed to notice and care, but when it came down to it, they watched the game. The NFL’s PSA and donations to causes is a good start, but unfortunately, they’re an effort that should have begun many years ago.
In the end, consumers will vote with their pockets and viewers with their eyeballs. Viewers can’t be blamed for not taking stand and watching the game. This is a league problem, and fans deserve better. We deserve for the leader of the most popular sports organization on the planet to be accountable to its fans. After all, there would be no NFL without the support of these millions of people, yet it seems like nothing can take our gaze off the league and American’s real favorite pastime.
Noah Zuss is a reporter for TheBlot Magazine.