Did the NFL Lose Ground With Female Fans?

NFL: Annual MeetingsIt’s only week two of the NFL season, and there has already been plenty of drama both on and off the field. On Monday, running back Ray Rice was cut by the Baltimore Ravens and suspended indefinitely by the NFL after another video of him was released physically abusing his then-fiancee (now wife) this past winter in an Atlantic City casino. The original video, that surfaced shortly after the incident, only depicted Rice dragging his wife’s unconscious body out of the elevator.

After the first video, the NFL utilized some reactive strategies to put a band-aid on the situation. It handed Rice a two-game suspension and held a press conference for Rice to apologize. Months later NFL commissioner, Roger Goodell, admitted that the punishment was too lenient and had the NFL adopt a new domestic violence policy. Under the new policy, players are suspended six games for their first offense and are permanently suspended for the second.

The wounds those band-aids covered were reopened with the release of the second video. Fans have been scrutinizing the league since the original incident, but it hit a pinnacle Monday morning. Suspending Rice was the NFL’s only real option, it was the only action that would satisfy fans and the media, at least for the time being. The suspension was a long time coming, and it would have been in the NFL’s best interest to enact it the first time. There was enough evidence against Rice immediately after the incident.

Some pundits have called this mishandling the biggest “black eye” in Goodell’s tenure as commissioner. For months, fans have been under the impression that the NFL cares more about players who abuse drugs than abuse women. I don’t understand how Goodell ever thought two games would be enough. Did he not listen to the outcry from fans and even NFL players themselves? Those are your target audiences, you need to keep them happy.

This has the potential to undo years of successful NFL marketing campaigns aimed at women. Almost half (46 percent) of all NFL fans are female. The original two-game suspension and support for Rice sent women the message, that the NFL tolerates domestic violence. Most women and men are not the same kind of football fans. What happens off the field matters more to women. They hold the family purse strings, and are reluctant to open them up for an organization with questionable values. It’ll be interesting to see how this precious demographic responds in the months ahead.

A PR nightmare for the NFL can actually be turned into a PR opportunity for other professional leagues, such as MLB, NHL and NBA. The NFL’s loss can be their gain, by taking a strict stance against domestic violence and implementing a zero tolerance policy for their players and staff members. They can show women that they value and genuinely care about their safety.

The NFL hasn’t seen the last of this crisis. It will surely reemerge when a team tries to sign Rice, or when another player is involved in a domestic dispute. The domestic violence policy gives the league a guideline for dealing with future issues, but I’m not sure it’ll be effective. No two cases are the same, and I don’t think there is a one size fits all punishment when it comes to domestic violence. The policy has already been disregarded in Rice’s case. Six games would not have been enough to stop further damage to the NFL’s reputation, so they were right to break their own guidelines.

Do you think this crisis will have any long-term effects on the NFL’s reputation? What was its biggest misstep in handling the situation?  

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