Can the NFL Survive the Mixed Messages It’s Sending When It Comes to Violence?

Will Roger Goodell be fired, NFL hires domestic abuse advisers, NFL and women fans, Hannah Storm blasts NFL, Ray RiceThe NFL is an amazing entity that doesn’t seem to listen. As the league spirals in the wake of one scandal after another, it just seems to bury itself repeatedly deeper when it comes to punishing players for their off-field behaviors.

On Monday, the Minnesota Vikings announced that Adrian Peterson will return to the team less than a week after he was charged with child abuse in Texas. He allegedly used a wooden switch to spank his four-year-old son.

The team owners said in a statement, “As evidenced by our decision to deactivate Adrian from yesterday’s game, this is clearly a very important issue,” the owners said. “On Friday, we felt it was in the best interests of the organization to step back, evaluate the situation, and not rush to judgment given the seriousness of this matter. At that time, we made the decision that we felt was best for the Vikings and all parties involved.

“To be clear, we take very seriously any matter that involves the welfare of a child. At this time, however, we believe this is a matter of due process and we should allow the legal system to proceed so we can come to the most effective conclusions and then determine the appropriate course of action. This is a difficult path to navigate, and our focus is on doing the right thing. Currently, we believe we are at a juncture where the most appropriate next step is to allow the judicial process to move forward.”

Oh, come on. The owners know they need Peterson, one of the best running backs in the NFL. It’s all about winning and the bottom line, isn’t it?

Meanwhile, Commissioner Roger Goodell is trying to save his job after last week’s drama over the Ray Rice situation in which the former Baltimore Raven was seen beating his then-fiancee Janay Palmer on a videotape. Numerous women’s groups, sportscasters and fans have called for Goodell’s resignation. The National Organization for Women launched a petition last week with the hashtag #ResignGoodell.

In protest of what’s been going on with the league in recent weeks, UltraViolet, a women’s rights organization, flew planes over stadiums in East Rutherford, New Jersey, Cleveland and San Francisco before NFL games on Sunday with banners displaying the hashtag #GoodellMustGo.

UltraViolet plans to fly one over Monday night’s Indianapolis Colts-Philadelphia Eagles game in Indiana. The group, like NOW, created a Goodell petition with the message: “Resign immediately. Your failure to take domestic violence seriously is outrageous.”

To its credit, the NFL announced on Monday that three female experts in domestic violence will serve as senior advisers to the league. They will “help lead and shape the NFL’s policies and programs relating to domestic violence and sexual assault.”

But is it all for show so that Goodell can preserve his own power? Or will real change happen?

Goodell, according to numerous news accounts, has the steady support of the 32 league owners. A Washington Post story last week reported that the group, however, could turn against Goodell if an investigation led by former FBI director Robert S. Mueller III finds that the commission didn’t handle the Ray Rice case properly.

Many cynics hint that even that investigation might contain a cover-up considering New York Giants’ owner John Mara and Art Rooney II, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ president, would oversee the investigation by Mueller. Both are very powerful men in the sport.

But regardless of what happens in the investigation, women aren’t giving up their fight against the NFL.

ESPN sports commentator Hannah Storm blasted the league Sunday’s ESPN Sportscenter, explaining how she questions whether she can remain a fan of a game that was forcing her to explain to her three daughters why it seemed like the NFL wasn’t taking seriously the Rice story. She pointed out that women make up 45 percent of all NFL fans – not a small demographic to dismiss.

The NFL crisis also played out on the Sunday political talk shows with New York Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand saying on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that the NFL’s handling of the Rice situation was “outrageous.” Gillibrand, along with 15 other female senators, wrote to Goodell last week saying the NFL needs a “zero-tolerance” policy for players who commit violent acts against women.

“It is long past time for the NFL to institute a real zero-tolerance policy and send a strong message that the league will not tolerate violence against women by its players, who are role models for children across America,” the senators wrote.

The heat remains turned up on the NFL to change its archaic ways. And rightly so. Every week during this season, fans – both male and female — commentators and women’s groups should demand change until the owners, players and especially Goodell (if he must remain) realize that there’s no returning to their sordid past ways.

Suzi Parker is an Arkansas-based political and cultural journalist and author of “Sex in the South: Unbuckling the Bible Belt” and “1000 Best Bartender’s Recipes.” She writes frequently for Reuters, TakePart, and numerous other publications. Follow her on Twitter at @SuziParker.

Image via Wikimedia Commons/CC License

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