What’s your reputation worth?
That’s the question Minnesota Vikings principal owner Zygi Wilf needs to ask himself. It’s also a question that every league owner needs to seriously consider in the face of public criticism concerning the escalation of players who have moved beyond thoughtless conduct to criminal behavior.
After benching Adrian Peterson for just one game stemming from charges of child abuse in Texas, the Minnesota Vikings announced that they would allow Peterson to play in this week’s game against the New Orleans Saints.
“The Vikings’ decision, The New York Times writes (Sept. 16), “comes as teams across the league grapple with the NFL’s inconsistent treatment of players accused of crimes, including domestic violence. The San Francisco 49ers have let Ray McDonald play after he was arrested in August on suspicions of domestic violence, and the Carolina Panthers let Greg Hardy, who was convicted of domestic violence charges but not suspended by the league, play in the season opener.”
“At the same time,” the Times writes, “sponsors who pay hundreds of millions of dollars to have their names and products associated with the N.F.L. have started to voice their anxiety with how the N.F.L. has handled the crisis…”
Clearly, the sponsors understand how the court of public opinion can impact their bottom line.
“On Tuesday, Anheuser-Busch, one of the league’s most prominent sponsors, said it was ‘disappointed and increasingly concerned by the recent incidents that have overshadowed this N.F.L. season.’ Nike, which provides uniforms, jerseys and other gear, has pulled Peterson’s jerseys from its stores in Minneapolis…”
“[NFL Commissioner Roger] Goodell has tried to calm the furor. Last week he appointed a former F.B.I. director to look into how the league handled the Rice case, and on Monday he appointed four women to help shape the league’s strengthened policies on domestic violence. On Tuesday the league named Cynthia Hogan as the N.F.L. chief lobbyist in Washington. She has worked at several positions in the Obama administration and helped Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. shape the Violence Against Women Act when he was in the Senate.
“Each announcement by the N.F.L., though, seems to be met with many more by others calling on the league to do more. [Minnesota Gov. Mark] Dayton, a Democrat who helped the Vikings receive public funding for their new stadium, emphasized that Peterson should be considered innocent until proven guilty. But in a statement, he said that Peterson ‘is a public figure; and his actions, as described, are a public embarrassment to the Vikings organization and the State of Minnesota. Therefore, I believe the team should suspend Mr. Peterson until the accusations of child abuse have been resolved by the criminal justice system.’ ”
However, the Radisson hotel chain recently announced “that it is suspending its limited sponsorship with the Vikings,” ESPN reports (Sept. 15).
In a statement, the hotel chain said:
“Radisson takes this matter very seriously particularly in light of our long-standing commitment to the protection of children. 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.”
There’s a difference between speculation and criminal charges and the NFL knows this. So do team owners, and yet owners continue to dither about putting a specific zero-tolerance policy in place that would settle the issue.
In fact, sixteen women U.S. Senators wrote a strongly worded letter to Commissioner Goodell calling for such a policy.
Dear Commissioner Goodell:
As we mark the 20th anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act, we call on the NFL to institute a real zero-tolerance policy for domestic violence that will ensure that this type of violence and abuse has no place in the NFL.
We were shocked and disgusted by the images we saw this week of one of your players violently assaulting his now-wife and knocking her unconscious, and at new reports that the NFL may have received this video months ago. Tragically, this is not the only case of an NFL player allegedly assaulting a woman even within the last year.
We are deeply concerned that the NFL’s new policy, announced last month, would allow a player to commit a violent act against a woman and return after a short suspension. If you violently assault a woman, you shouldn’t get a second chance to play football in the NFL.
The NFL’s current policy sends a terrible message to players, fans and all Americans that even after committing a horrific act of violence, you can quickly be back on the field.
It is long past time for the NFL to institute a real zero-tolerance policy and send a strong message that the league will not tolerate violence against women by its players, who are role models for children across America. We hope the NFL will seize this opportunity to lead by example and demonstrate its commitment to the safety of women and families.
The letter was signed by Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Kay Hagan (D-NC.) and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.).
Maybe when more sponsors begin to pull products and ad buys from events, owners will get the message.
UPDATE: Early this morning the Vikings announced that Adrian Peterson is banned from all team activities until all legal issues are resolved.
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