Lasting change will result from collective boycott of NFL


By Mark Powell / Staff Writer

I grew up a die-hard NFL fan. I knew every statistic, and I collected football cards from the age of six until I was 12. I had Pittsburgh Steelers posters all over my room.

As young fans, we all notice the bright lights and hard-hitting action. As we get older, we drop everything to watch “our team” from “our city” with players chosen for “us.” We cheer big hits that cause injury, scrutinize victims of domestic violence and cheer convicted felons like they’re soldiers returning home from war. 

Most of us buy into the perceived utopia of sports, while they enforce a 15-yard penalty on our ability to think cognitively. 

As Dr. Waldman told Henry in the film adaptation of “Frankenstein,” “You’ve created a monster, and he will destroy you.” The only difference is this monster can’t be killed by burning an old mill.

After the NFL’s poor handling of the situation with former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, I no longer wear the league’s merchandise, and, outside of the Steelers-Ravens game on Thursday that I watched for this column, I no longer tune in for games. 

Why am I boycotting the NFL? Because I can’t help but feel partially responsible for supporting murders, drug abuse, fatal head injuries, domestic violence and the build-up of an entity that cannot be destroyed. And while it’s a bit reactionary, try and stick with me.

The league has taken some missteps this season, as it has in the past, but there’s a key difference now. As these indiscretions have come to light, it seems like we — the public — have begun to take notice of the league’s culture.

There are two events that have truly tested the NFL’s moral high ground in the public eye.

First, the negligence and stupidity shown by commissioner Roger Goodell in his initial two-game suspension of Rice set off public outrage. 

Goodell has been quick to hand out harsh suspensions and fines for marijuana possession and wardrobe malfunctions, but, when it came to the star running back, he flinched. 

When TMZ released the second Rice video, media giants, such as ESPN, began to turn on the NFL. It was clear that someone had lied about who in the league’s office had seen the video.

One week later, another star was in the news, as Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings was indicted for physically abusing his 4-year-old son. As a result, Peterson sat out for the Vikings’ game last Sunday.

The Vikings announced on Wednesday that they placed the running back on the exempt list, which means he is banned from all team activities but will still be paid.

In 2011, Vikings cornerback Chris Cook was charged with domestic violence. In reaction, the team suspended him without pay for the rest of the season. Similarly, in 2012, Vikings running back Caleb King was arrested on assault charges and released from the team. Even as recently as December 2013, the team cut cornerback A.J. Jefferson after he was linked to domestic violence. 

So why the double standard? We needn’t look any further than the money trail.

The NFL has an annual revenue of $10 billion, $1 billion of which comes from its corporate sponsors. So, while Vikings management may disagree with the way Peterson disciplines his children, their primary focus is on the team’s financial prosperity. 

Under normal circumstances, the NFL on Fox, which broadcasts games between NFC teams, averages 20.3 million viewers per week. That’s 20.3 million commercial targets for the Vikings’ sponsors, who have almost as much to do with the team’s success as the coaches and general manager.

But there’s something the Vikings didn’t take into account, and it’s a lesson the NFL may soon learn as well: Corporate sponsors hate negative publicity. 

Anheuser-Busch, which contributes $1.2 billion to the NFL as a sponsor, issued a statement regarding the league’s direction. 

“We are disappointed and increasingly concerned by the incidents that have overshadowed this NFL season. We are not yet satisfied with the league’s behaviors that so clearly go against our own company culture and moral code,” the company said.

Regardless of what you think of the “moral code” of a beer company, the league is in trouble. Radisson, a corporate sponsor of the Vikings, has broken ties with the team entirely. Nike has suspended its endorsement deal with Peterson. While most companies still stand by the NFL, they could fall like dominoes if events keep transpiring like they have the last few weeks. 

So, why boycott? Because, despite all its controversies, the NFL is still averaging just as many viewers as they had last year. 

The day after Baltimore released Rice, with the league embroiled in controversy, the Ravens played the Steelers on Thursday Night Football. The game attracted over 20 million viewers.

If we can make a slight dent in that mark, if only for a few weeks, the pressure from sponsors will hopefully force the league to make sufficient changes in leadership — an action that’s long overdue.