What’s wrong with the NFL?
Simply put, they flip-flop – a lot.
Take the latest drama to hit the NFL. (Yes, it does appear that every day there’s a new public relations mess in the football world).
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. Allegations of a second incident of child abuse involving another son surfaced this week, though Peterson’s attorneys are denying that episode.
Forty-eight hours later, on Wednesday, the Vikings backpedaled on its decision and placed Peterson on the exempt/commissioner’s permission list. What does this mean? Peterson is required to remain away from all team activities until his legal proceedings are resolved.
Soon after this announcement, Nike announced it suspended its endorsement contract with Peterson, who has his first court hearing on October 8 in Texas.
“Nike in no way condones child abuse or domestic violence of any kind and has shared our concerns with the NFL. We have suspended our contract with Adrian Peterson.”
Following Nike’s announcement, the Radisson Hotel chain suspended its sponsorship of the Vikings on Monday following Peterson’s reinstatement.
This is excellent news because it shows that corporations that dole out millions of dollars to athletes in endorsement deals are standing up against horrendous domestic acts. It also means that teams like the Vikings are feeling pressure to change their initial decisions.
Mark Wilf, the Vikings owner and president, said at a Wednesday press conference, “We made a mistake…the main thing is we are getting it right.”
But if the Vikings would have made the right — and logical — decision last week regarding Peterson they wouldn’t have had to save face today.
Sure, the NFL is a complicated entity with myriad rules and regulations regarding punishments and players’ rights. After all, it’s a business. But Peterson was indicted on charges of “reckless or negligent injury to a child.” The Vikings only did the right thing after it could no longer stand the heat from fans, activists, corporate sponsors and even politicians. Earlier this week, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton and Sen. Al Franken called on the Vikings to bench Peterson.
Pressure clearly works, and it shouldn’t stop.
All of the current scrutiny on the NFL began with Ray Rice, the former Baltimore Ravens running back who was seen beating his then-fiancee Janay Palmer on a videotape. Rice was indefinitely suspended by the NFL.
But could the NFL actually re-instate Rice? Perhaps.
On Tuesday night, the NFL Players Association announced it was appealing Rice’s suspension because it lacked a “fair and impartial process” by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
“We have asked that a neutral and jointly selected arbitrator hear this case as the Commissioner and his staff will be essential witnesses in the proceeding and thus cannot serve as impartial arbitrators,” the NFLPA said in a statement.
The NFL’s drama doesn’t stop there.
Carolina Panthers’ Greg Hardy, who has been charged with terrorizing an ex-girlfriend, could be punished by the league. The Panthers benched Hardy last Sunday for one game because of mounting demands. On Wednesday, numerous sports outlets reported that Hardy may be placed on the same list as Peterson, meaning he won’t be able to play until his legal troubles are cleared up.
A similar situation is brewing for the San Francisco 49ers.
Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said on Wednesday that the team should not have allowed defensive end Ray McDonald to play in last Sunday’s game because he, too, has pending domestic violence charges.
Meanwhile, Democratic California Rep. Jackie Speier went further on Wednesday, calling on the league to immediately suspend any players arrested for domestic violence. On the House floor, Speier said, “Anything for football. It’s a phrase I have heard a lot recently that we should ignore what happens off the field for the sake of the sport.
“Recently, anything for football has been used to justify an organization that perpetrates violence and sexism rather than teamwork, family and sport. Instead of fighting injustice off the field for the sake of the sport, the NFL chooses deafening silence,” she continued.
“We are told to ignore what happens off the sidelines in disciplinary board rooms, or behind elevator doors. All for the sport. Well, I refuse to ignore what is happening.”
Are people more forgiving of professional athletes than of, say, politicians?
“Politicians’ statements are regularly scrutinized for their consistency,” Lara Brown, associate professor at George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management, told me. “There’s no doubt that changing positions either too frequently or seemingly arbitrarily not only invites criticisms, but it also tends to result in a loss of trust among the people.”
The NFL needs to tread very carefully now if they are to maintain any credibility with fans. Perhaps, they should take a lesson or two from the world of the politicians who are now loudly criticizing them.
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.