Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Reconsidering the NFL and Michael Vick

Football is big business. No, it's not big business, it's BIG, BIG business and it needs to protect its highly lucrative income stream. Of course, this means it needs to keep those teams with highly trained athletes fueled with testosterone and privilege in line or, if that's not possible, figure out ways to disengage them from media problems.

The NFL appears to have done a superior job in damage control and even though their players have committed some pretty disturbing acts off the field, the band plays on and the jerseys are sold to women (who have been on the receiving end of at-home sacks) and the tickets are moving nicely. When push comes to shove, this multi-billion dollar enterprise can raise a rather Casablanca-like protest (remember the line about gambling?), as in the case of the highly talented Michael Vick and his dog fighting enterprise, but the playing field is anything but level.

Vick, who was found to be engaging in an illegal dog-fighting business, was suspended indefinitely by the NFL in 2007 for violating their "player conduct policy" but the NFL held out the possibility of reinstatement. His then-team, the Falcons, went to court and recovered $19.97 million of his signing bonus because he knew he was in violation of his contract with the gambling associated with the dog fighting. The actions of both the NFL and the team were harsh and somewhat shocking.

Why shocking? The media has uncovered some of the facts and they are eye-opening. According to one source, "Domestic violence accounts for 85 of the 713 arrests of NFL players since 2000 in a database compiled by USA Today." But now there's a "new" policy regarding domestic violence. And, in line with that redefined policy, there are severe consequences for the latest bad boy actions of NFL player Ray Rice. Now, he has been cut from his team, suspended from playing in the NFL, had his jersey removed from Rutgers University and the Baltimore Ravens are willing to exchange other jerseys for his, if anyone cares to do so. Has social media played a role here? I think so.

Can the new policy revert to taking action against prior acts by an NFL player? This seems like creating a category of crime that is used to lock up people who committed the crime in times past. I'm not an attorney, but several aspects of the current case are disturbing on many levels. For one, dog fighting and gambling seemed to be higher on the offense level, as seen by the NFL, than violence toward women. And, words in contracts such as a "conduct code" appear to provide a loophole to be used in a situation involving restraint of trade whenever you wish to use it and for whatever reason.

Will Rice sue both the NFL and the team for depriving him of his livelihood? He may. I am not saying his actions were appropriate toward his then-fiancee, but I question the motives of the NFL. They may employ "warriors" on the field, but what kind of moral fiber is the commissioner made of? His rather wimpy TV interview where he denied knowledge of the elevator video showing Rice's attack sounds so much like "don't tell me so I can say I didn't know" that it's not believable.

What type of message does this send out to fans and kids who look up to those in the sport? Certainly, sports teams and franchises are always trying to use psychology to burnish that warm-and-fuzzy image of themselves as caring, especially for kids. Who can forget that soft drink commercial with Mean Joe Greene?

Does this help that image? Nah, they need major damage control and a bit of something else. There's a Spanish word for it and I know you know what I mean. The course is clear; major damage control firm needed here. Get out the checkbooks, guys because you're going to need them right about now.