A new NBC News/Marist poll reveals that the overwhelming majority of Americans — fans and non-fans alike — don’t plan on changing their football watching habits as a result of the domestic abuse controversy that has consumed the National Football League in recent weeks:
A bigger blowout than last night’s laugher in Atlanta. (By the way, who are those few “more likely” folks? People who are really committed to a counter-backlash? Active supporters of domestic abuse? I don’t get it). The same survey showed that football fans overwhelmingly disapprove (30/57) of the league’s handling of this issue, even as fewer than one-third of respondents say commissioner Roger Goodell should step down. In an America’s Newsroom segment opposite liberal talk show host Leslie Marshall this morning, I “confessed” that I’m squarely with the majority on the first two counts, prompting Marshall to quip that if I were her husband, I’d be sleeping on the couch:
She backed off the hyper-blowhardy ‘watching the NFL is tantamount to condoning abuse’ standard when I challenged her on it, but that sort of reflexive moral preening (especially in the media) isn’t uncommon at the moment. By declining to completely abandon the NFL’s product, I touched off a small flurry of furious responses on twitter. This one is fairly representative:
(4) and @guypbenson, u obviously don’t care about the kids & women getting PUNCHED (or u’d stop watching the PUNCHERS)
— Dark_Red_Hair #TGDN (@Dark_Red_Hair) September 19, 2014
Well, the ‘punchers’ have been sidelined and suspended, so there’s that. And is the ‘boycott football!’ crowd willing to stop listening to all music so long as Chris Brown still has a career? Just the stations who play his hits? How is this supposed to work, exactly, and which industries are subject to/exempt from these rules? Much of the outcry over the Ray Rice episode arose from the terribly inadequate punishment initially handed down, which was only rectified after videos of the shocking elevator attack and its disturbing aftermath leaked out. That frantic, caught-red-handed damage control was enough to rile the boo birds, whose cacophony only grew louder when it came to light that the NFL had misled the public on the substance and timeline of what league officials knew. The NFL is now paying a significant PR price for this mess, and has announced needed reforms to some of its outdated and incoherent policies. These are positive developments, although the jury is out on whether the changes really have teeth or are mere window-dressing. If the league gets busted for covering up additional incidents or routinely ignoring their new standards down the line, I suspect more fans will grow disenchanted — possibly actively so — as a result. But today’s poll shows that a decisive majority of NFL consumers have thus far concluded that the league’s actions haven’t risen to a level that impacts their behavior as fans. Critics might counter with pointed questions like, then what would it take?
Boycott thresholds vary from person to person, but I’ll provide a sports-related example from my own perspective: If I were a Penn State fan, I would have walked away from that football program for a lengthy period of time after the Sandusky scandal broke. In that case, university officials at the highest level conspired to cover up serial child rape in order to protect the golden calf of Nittany Lions football. The severely warped culture that allows this to happen was endemic and went to the very top. It exposed more children to abuse. And it shielded a monster from justice for years. While I’ve been somewhat sympathetic to arguments that it’s unfair to punish players and fans (via NCAA sanctions) who had nothing to do with the child rape scandal, there are certain instances that merit making examples out of entire organizations. This was one of them. When a group’s leadership engages in behavior as unconscionable as the Penn State cover-up, a message must be sent that consequences won’t be ‘siloed’ to impact the directly guilty alone. The whole institution should suffer for a moral failing of that magnitude, rooted in shockingly misplaced priorities. That’s why I’ve looked on in disgust as the NCAA’s already-modest sanctions against Penn State have been systematically rolled back and softened, including this year’s sudden reinstatement of post-season eligibility. In any case, the point of that detour is to illustrate that yes, there is a point that I would sever ties as a fan. One man’s opinion. So far, the NFL has not reached that stage in my estimation — nor in many others’, it would seem.
Parting questions: The NBC survey also found that by a 26-point margin, Americans believe it’s wrong for parents to “discipline their children by striking them – either with a paddle, switch or belt.” Would those results have changed measurably if the verb had been “spank,” instead of “strike”? Or is hand spanking deemed acceptable, whereas using other instruments is frowned upon? I’d ask if most Americans are simply against corporal punishment in general, but we already know that answer. And one last nugget to chew on: Northeastern Democrats are among the least likely Americans to approve of spanking, with Southern Republicans, Evangelicals and African-Americans at the other end of the spectrum. Discuss.