General Motors CEO Mary Barra, in an interview with CNN’s Poppy Harlow, recently said that she trusts that the NFL and its commissioner Roger Goodell would make the changes needed with players’ domestic violence issues.
While Barra called the domestic issue within the NFL “unacceptable,” she didn’t say specifically what the NFL needed to do to combat its problems.
“They have an opportunity to not only make very important changes that will set the tone for the NFL, but also to do something that has far more reaching implications that I think would benefit and get to the issues that need resolve in this case so there could be behavior change and real change in this area of domestic violence,” she said in the interview at Fortune magazine’s Most Powerful Women Summit. “I believe they have that opportunity and they will seize it.”
She stopped short saying that GM, one of the NFL’s most important corporate sponsors, would pull their support if change didn’t happen. Barra stressed she had faith that the NFL would do the right thing.
Barra, who is ranked No. 2 on Fortune’s Most Powerful Women in Business list behind Ginni Rommetty, chairwoman, CEO and president of IBM, had a prime opportunity to say something other than safe talking points. She could have started by even quoting some statistics about domestic violence in this country. She could have announced some sweeping partnership with the NFL to combat domestic violence both within the league and in this country. She could have really woman-upped and said that GM would consider pulling its dollars from the NFL if change did not happen within a specific amount of time.
But she didn’t.
As the first female CEO of GM, Barra, 52, who studied electrical engineering and has an MBA, is no dumb bunny. Obviously. She rose through the ranks of a male-dominated corporation, beginning her career at General Motors at the age of 18 as a student in 1980. She, not so unlike Goodell, has been embattled since becoming CEO. GM has been under nightmare scrutiny because of a recall of 2.6 million General Motors cars pertaining to vehicles that have been reportedly blamed for more than 20 deaths and 500 injuries.
Barra isn’t the only female CEO standing by the NFL. Pepsi’s Indra Nooyi and Campbell Soup’s Denise Morrison also have publicly supported the league and Goodell.
According to research firm IEG, GM spends $40 million a year with the NFL. That’s considerably lower than PepisCo, the league’s biggest sponsor, which spends about $100 million a year. Campbell Soup spends about $10 million.
Female CEOs who have worked their way up the corporate ladder to shatter glass ceilings should be front and center, speaking out more forcefully against the NFL and Goodell, who continues to give lame press conferences such as the one on Wednesday following the owners meeting in New York. Barra, Nooyi and Morrison are in ideal positions to show the NFLresearch firm some balls. After all, they hold high-dollar purse strings. But sadly, they are tucking and ducking.
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.