The NFL is king.
In the world of American professional sports, no league boasts more teams, fans and revenue.
Now the NFL also holds the dubious honor of having the biggest current public relations crisis.
The league is dealing with blowback from its handling of the Ray Rice assault incident, combined with outcries about the abuse cases regarding Greg Hardy and Adrian Peterson.
This isn’t a new problem. According to CNN, 85 of 713 NFL players arrested since 2000 have been booked for domestic violence.
The overall popularity of the NFL isn’t at risk. This king won’t be dethroned any time soon. But should the league fail to act, the NFL could lose a surprisingly large and important part of its demographic – women.
According to a recent Washington Post article, women make up an astonishing 45 percent of the NFL’s audience. Both Fox and NBC saw their ratings among women viewers increase last year. These numbers could fall should the Rice situation continue to punctuate national headlines.
Even more troubling for the league, sponsors are taking action. According to SBNation.com, Radisson suspended its sponsorship of the Minnesota Vikings. Anheuser-Busch and CoverGirl both issued strong statements in regards to the NFL’s handling of its current abuse cases. Even Nike is taking action. According to AP reporter Jon Krawczynski, Nike pulled Peterson jerseys from its stores in the Twin Cities.
The situation the NFL finds itself in is one of the worst crises any professional sports league has dealt with in recent history.
How can the NFL go about solving this PR problem?
The easy solution is to call for the ouster of commissioner Roger Goodell. When in doubt, fire the man on top and move on, right?
Wrong. A more drastic change is needed to solve the true problem – the culture of this league. The first small step is firing Goodell, but the solution doesn’t end there.
The NFL can’t afford to bring in another ordinary NFL lifer like Roger Goodell. Bringing in a prototypical candidate will solve nothing. What the NFL needs is a different kind of leader.
The NFL needs someone with a diverse background. Someone who has a deep love for the game of football, but not necessarily a job in it. Someone like Don McPherson.
This idea is not my own. TheNation.com published an article on Monday suggesting him as a potential candidate. As a former All-American quarterback at Syracuse and NFL veteran, McPherson knows the game. As an African-American and feminist, he realizes the growing importance of diversity. He has developed many programs to educate student-athletes, coaches and administrators on a variety of topics.
The NFL needs a bold leader willing to take risks and change the culture of the league, and McPherson might just be that person.
McPherson, or whoever would assume the job, needs to start with increasing the punishments for a player formally accused of abuse or assault, or in the case of Rice, when sufficient evidence is available. (As AP reported, the incriminating video was received by the NFL offices on April 9).
A new policy for abuse and assault cases, instituted in late August, is a huge step, but does not go far enough. The first offense is a six-game suspension without pay, while the second infraction is a lifetime ban.
I agree with the second penalty, but why not sentence the offender to a one-year ban from the league in the first offense, upon conviction? If you want to eliminate domestic violence in the NFL, make the punishments strict enough to discourage players.
The final step is a dedication to ending domestic abuse issues in the United States.
The NFL has taken a leadership role on breast cancer awareness, dedicating all of October to the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society. Why not become a leader in the area of domestic violence?
There’s no reason not to do so. The NFL wields great power, boasting huge television audiences and more fans than any other professional sports league in America.
The NFL is in the midst of one of the worst PR crises in its history. But with some major changes, the NFL can turn the situation into a positive in the long run, and create change in American society.