The NFL’s crisis of star players allegedly — and admittedly — committing domestic abuse has created a window of opportunity for the country’s most popular sports league. The NFL must step up and lead a larger campaign combating violence against women and children, super-agent Leigh Steinberg said.
“Clearly, the NFL reacted way too slowly to recognize the specter of domestic violence and the critical role it could play in making an impact on the problem,” Steinberg told TheWrap on Thursday. “In a larger sense, though, it just reflected society. (Commissioner) Roger Goodell didn’t create the issue of domestic violence, and I think it’s important going forward to focus on the role that the league could play in a positive way in having a positive impact, in the same way that it’s had on breast cancer and other issues.”
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The bad news continued for the league this week, with Arizona Cardinals running back Jonathan Dwyer arrested for allegedly head-butting his wife and throwing a shoe at his child. Last week, Minnesota Vikings star running back Adrian Peterson was charged with abusing his 4-year-old son, and the league infamously bungled the response to the brutal video that depicted star running back Ray Rice beating his wife in an elevator. And the league has been the butt of several jokes on the late-night circuit.
“There’s been a great deal of villainization of Roger Goodell, and clearly he made some mistakes, but he didn’t commit domestic violence; Ray Rice committed domestic violence,” said Steinberg, who was the real-life inspiration for the Tom Cruise movie “Jerry Maguire.” “Roger Goodell didn’t commit child abuse; Adrian Peterson did.”
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Now, the league must act to make sure these things don’t happen again, both by leading by example and also taking definitive measures involving its players.
“They need to set up preventative programs inside the league, which counsel younger players in preventative ways. They need to have discipline, which sends a clear message that it’s not tolerated,” Steinberg said. “They are perfectly positioned to target young males from adolescence on, in not using their fists in anger, because NFL players have special appeal as opinion leaders among groups of young males.”
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Earlier this week, several major sponsors, including Anheuser-Busch and PepsiCo, issued angry statements about the rash of domestic violence, no doubt because they don’t want their products associated with such horrific criminal acts. While that might put further pressure on Goodell, Steinberg doesn’t foresee it costing the commissioner his job.
“I think it’s important delineate between sponsor displeasure and sponsor action,” he said. “Because fans appear to be compartmentalizing their reaction to this. No one is happy or approves of domestic violence or child abuse, but that is a different issue from the love of NFL football. On the one hand, they’re greatly displeased by athletes committing domestic violence and child abuse; on the other hand, they’re separating that from their desire to go to games and watch television and buy products.
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“Television viewership is at record levels, the games are well attended,” Steinberg added. “There is a bifurcation between the actions of a few players and the embrace of return of pro football. I don’t think there’s a sponsor in America happy about the behavior of those players. That’s different than them cutting their connection to the sport.”