The NFL has mishandled the Ray Rice affair. One of their largest sponsors pointed that out to them yesterday.

Anheuser-Busch, with a $1.3 billion, six year advertising investment, issued a statement saying, “We are disappointed and increasingly concerned by recent incidents that have overshadowed this NFL season. We are not yet satisfied with the league’s handling of behaviors that so clearly go against our own company culture and moral code.”

Annheuser-Busch isn’t the only sponsor to express concerns, but they pack more clout than most, with separate sponsorship deals with about two thirds of the teams and $149 million in advertising in the last four Super Bowls. That’s enough to get someone’s attention. The Minnesota Vikings took notice. The Anheuser-Busch statement, phone calls from the governor and a U.S. senator, and Raddison Hotels temporarily pulling their sponsorship with the team, led the Vikes to reverse field on running back Adrian Peterson, charged with child abuse. One day after reinstating him for this week’s game the Vikings last night put Peterson on the “Exempt Commissioner’s List”, barring him from team activities until his legal issues are resolved.

That still leaves the league with the matters of Ray McDonald, facing domestic violence charges but still on the 49ers active roster, Greg Hardy, already convicted in a domestic violence case, who may keep on playing for the Panthers while he appeals the ruling, and Ray Rice. The union has filed an appeal, claiming that by suspending Rice for two games after he was seen dragging his unconcious fiance from an elevator and interviewing him about the incident, then suspending him indefinitely following release of a second video, showing Rice doing what everyone knew he’d done in that elevator, punching the woman, the NFL took two bites of the apple, punished Rice twice for the same crime.

What’s evident is the NFL has no social conscience and Roger Goodell is making it up as he goes, responding to each latest critisism as it comes. There is no single policy that keeps everyone on the same page. Goodell’s approach has been to just stick another finger in the dike whenever a hole appears. He named a panel, including Steelers owner Dan Rooney, to investigate violence issues involving NFL players, with no one questioning what quid pro quo to Goodell may be involved on Rooney’s part for Goodell reducing a suspension to his quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, following two rape allegations.

Goodell’s latest response to his own series of blunders was to name former White House aide and women’s activist Cynthia Hogan senior vice president of public policy and government affairs. So far no league position on McDonald and Hardy, and the league’s approach is like applying bandaids when a tourniquet is required.

It’s good that the sponsors are speaking up, they, and T-V, have been Goodell’s only real concerns his entire tenure, and they’re making the NFL realize a new approach to the conduct of their players is needed, one that has everyone on the same page. To get them there may require removing Goodell’s name from the letter head.

With a comment from the sports world, I’m Scott Gray.


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