Wednesday, October 21, 2015

They Might Be Giants

“Anybody, in my opinion, that lays a hand on a woman – I don’t care who you are, my friend – you never come back in this league.” 
                                                                                                Terry Bradshaw

It’s October and our national obsession with all things sports-related is going strong.

The major league baseball playoffs are in full swing with the World Series just around the corner.  Saturday afternoons are filled with heated college football rivalries taking place in stadiums across the country.  The puck has dropped on another hockey season in the NHL.  College basketball, as well as the NBA, is right around the corner. And the NFL season is in full swing with games every Sunday afternoon (as well as Sunday, Thursday, and Monday nights) until the Super Bowl in February 2016.

            All is right in the world.

            Except that it isn’t – especially in the NFL.

           Convicted domestic abuser Greg Hardy returned to the playing field last weekend after missing 19 games over two seasons – the same Greg Hardy who recently showed little remorse for his actions - and had a fairly impressive game by NFL standards: 5 combined tackles, 5 quarterback hits, 2 sacks, and I forced fumble.  It was the kind of game Cowboys owner Jerry Jones no doubt envisioned when he signed Hardy to a one-year contract carrying a base salary of $750,000, although Hardy can earn up to a total of $13.1 million through per-game roster bonuses, incentives, and a large workout bonus.  It was also the kind of game that had NFL Network analyst, Hall of Famer, and former Cowboy Michael Irwin saying:

” I know a lot of people are mad at this dude, but I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is the first game!'” Irvin said. “That was crazy. The kind of pressure he got on Tom Brady. It was scary crazy.”

            The NFL has a problem with domestic violence - it’s the same merry-go-round we’ve been on too many times with this league.  Ray Rice.  Brandon Marshall. Adrian Peterson. Dez Bryant.  Ray McDonald. Jeff Bowlen.  The list of players and executives goes on and on.  In a series of articles written last year by Benjamin Morris and published by USA Today (you can read his article here), Morris used data obtained primarily from the Bureau of Justice but other sources as well, to explore domestic violence among NFL players, and determined the following main points:

  1. For most crimes, NFL players have extremely low arrest rates relative to national averages.
  2. Their relative arrest rate for domestic violence though, is much higher than for other crimes.
  3. Although the arrest rate for domestic violence may appear low relative to the national average for 25- to 29-year-old men, it is high relative to income level (more than $75,000 per year) and poverty rate (0 percent).

The uncomfortable truth is that the NFL doesn’t care about domestic violence.  Not enough any way.  If you’re a good enough player, no one cares what kind of person you are.  And that’s where we’re stuck.

I’m sorry everybody and I don’t want to be insensitive,” Irvin added in talking about Hardy. “But it was so impressive, mind-boggling impressive.”

Because what happens on the football field in a nation obsessed with the controlled violence football offers is more important than what happens off the field.  The value of a quarterback sack on Tom Brady matters more than the life of the ex-girlfriend Hardy was accused of first throwing in the bathroom and later on a futon covered with assault weapons, choking, and then threatening to kill.  The same victim who was afraid to testify against Hardy at his trial.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.  The National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) is a membership and advocacy organization working to understand the ongoing and emerging needs of domestic violence victims and advocacy programs - then make sure those needs are heard and understood by policymakers at the national level.  One of their current initiatives involves circulating a petition urging NFL teams to wear purple in October In support of domestic violence awareness, although for the past two days that petition is still short of their stated goal of 2500 signatures.  2500.  The NFL has the ability to reach millions of men and women across the country during every game and make a real difference in the education of the public about domestic violence.  That kind of awareness should be a no-brainer for the NFL.

But it’s time to admit that awareness is not the solution.

Awareness is only a step; too many people view awareness as some sort of panacea in the fight against domestic violence.  Confusing “awareness” with “action”.  Knowing about the problem helps, but it doesn’t solve the issue (knowing you have a flat tire doesn’t fix it – you have to get your ass out of the car, use the jack, and change the tire if you want to drive down the road).  We need an agenda.  And we need to take actions- hard actions that make people uncomfortable but bring about change – in this case, actions against the NFL, its merchandising arm, and the companies that support the league. The first step: stop buying all NFL products.  Those jerseys, tees, hoodies, key chains, hats –anything and everything with a team logo – feed the beast that is the NFL.  Saying no to buying a Hardy jersey is easy - not purchasing any Cowboys merchandise (because NFL owners like Jerry Jones facilitate Greg Hardy and what he did by signing him to a contract and then make excuses to justify their actions) – is harder. 

The second step: boycott all companies who advertise/support/fund the NFL and stop buying their products. This is the tough one.  NFL telecasts are a vital component of many companies’ ad campaigns.  NFL sponsors have a huge stake in the success of the league, but the league itself is dependent on the advertising dollars it rakes in.  The league is fueled by corporate dollars, and without those steady infusions, the engine would stop running.  In the wake of the Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson domestic violence and child abuse cases last year, Campbell Soup Co. , Procter & Gamble, and McDonald's issued statements condemning domestic violence.

    "As McDonald's is a family brand, we've communicated our concerns to the league, and we expect it to take strong and necessary actions to address these issues," a McDonald's spokesperson said last year. 

       But McDonald’s took no steps to pull back on TV ads.

Indra Nooyi, CEO of PepsiCo Inc., said she was "deeply disturbed" that the "repugnant behavior" of some players and the league's mishandling of the cases is "casting a cloud" over the NFL's integrity.

Last year Pepsi still paid $50 Million to the NFL as part of its long term sponsorship deal.

So far, not one company has stepped up.  By paying tens of millions of dollars to the NFL each year, these companies are condoning misbehavior and domestic violence.  Those same companies that pour money into the league have to pull their sponsorship dollars - that would take guts, and when big money is at stake, actions fade away.  Companies are going to need a push from consumers to change the culture of the NFL for the better, and that effort has to come from consumers.  Perhaps moms, who do most of the shopping for their families, would reach for other brands at the store if they realized those sponsors were complicit in promoting domestic violence.  Perhaps those same companies would demand change – real change in the NFL culture if they saw significant drops in their market share and revenue.

It’s a start and it can be a very effective course of action.

The NFL has consistently missed the opportunity to effect positive change on the issue of domestic violence, allowing reprehensible behavior by its employees, because it is a money-making monopoly with little social accountability.  The league is a profitable juggernaut with a market value of $45 Billion and “grandfathered-in” non-profit status that returns revenue back to the owners (Jerry Jones’ Cowboys are worth almost $4 Billion). Revenue per year for the league is estimated to be $9.5 Billion, with merchandise sales and licensing totaling over $1 Billion and advertising revenue of almost $1-2 Billion as part of that financial foundation. 

So it starts by not buying all of that NFL licensed merchandise.  Telling the NFL’s advertisers (ranging from Anheuser-Busch, McDonald’s, and Toyota to GEICO, Ford, and Verizon) that we won’t be buying products advertised between every play, TV timeout, play stoppage, and pre- and post-game highlight show. Then maybe even turning off the games. 

We need to seize the moment, and if the NFL won’t take strong action it’s up to all of us – especially women – to shape how we end domestic violence.  Women are earning, buying, and influencing spending at a greater rate than ever before. In fact, women account for $5 - 15 trillion in consumer and business spending in the United States, and over the next decade, they will control two thirds of consumer wealth. Women make or influence 85% of all purchasing decisions, and purchase over 50% of traditional male products, including automobiles, home improvement products and consumer electronics.  We're a nation of consumers - women alone can use their spending power to change the ways companies operate.

Something drastic needs to be done. And in the sports world as well as the world of business, there’s nothing more drastic than losing money to make something happen.

There’s no more middle ground on domestic violence.

I'm not singling out just the NFL in the fight against domestic violence - but that's a damn good  place to start.

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