Ever so slightly, the National Football League is starting to feel pain.
It’s not much. The league can certainly handle it. But politicians and, more to the point, advertisers are reacting to the league’s blundering response to some of its players’ off-field violence.
In Minnesota, Gov. Mark Dayton was quoted as calling Minnesota star running back Adrian Peterson’s actions a “public embarrassment” to his team and state, and saying the Vikings should not have reinstated him until child abuse allegations are resolved.
Peterson, the league’s 2012 Most Valuable Player, faces charges that he used a branch to whip his 4-year-old. He says he was disciplining the boy. What the small child did that stirred his professional football playing father to hit him with a stick and leave a mark has not been explained, not that there could be an explanation.
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California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom urged the 49ers to bench defensive lineman Ray McDonald. Allowing McDonald to play is a “painful affront to every victim of domestic violence and sends a troubling message,” Newsom and his wife, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, said in their statement.
Coach Jim Harbaugh says he is “waiting for information, waiting for facts.” The Santa Clara County District Attorney’s office has not decided whether to charge McDonald with domestic abuse following his arrest on Aug. 31 for leaving bruises on his pregnant fiancée.
The National Football League can ignore politicians. But it probably took notice when the Radisson hotel chain, a Vikings sponsor, announced it had suspended its advertising after the team reinstated Peterson.
“Radisson takes this matter very seriously, particularly in light of our long-standing commitment to the protection of children,” the company said. “We are closely following the situation and effective immediately, Radisson is suspending its limited sponsorship of the Minnesota Vikings while we evaluate the facts and circumstances.”
Anheuser-Busch, the official beer of the NFL, issued a statement suggesting it is losing patience with the league: “We are not yet satisfied with the league’s handling of behaviors that so clearly go against our own company culture and moral code. We have shared our concerns and expectations with the league.”
The beer maker’s statement probably is not coincidental. Studies have shown a connection between alcohol and drug abuse and domestic violence.
The league and Baltimore Ravens did suspend running back Ray Rice, but only after TMZ aired footage showing him in an Atlantic City casino elevator knocking out his girlfriend with a single punch.
Image-conscious NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell appointed four women, including a new vice president of social responsibility, to help shape the league’s policies on domestic violence and sexual assault.
The NFL has talked a great game. It claims to have zero tolerance for off-field violence by its players. But the league’s actions suggest its definition of zero tolerance is situational. What it won’t tolerate is loss of too many advertisers.