UPDATES, September 17, 6 AM: A cacophony of complaints can be heard coming from the general direction of advertisers and sponsors looking to protect their brands — without severing extremely lucrative ties with domestic-abuse scandal-plagued NFL. So far the growing list includes Anheuser-Busch, McDonalds, Visa, Procter & Gamble, FedEx, Nike, and Campbell Soup Co., among the companies that have issued stern statements expressing “concern” to the league — and their customers.
Late Tuesday, the NFL responded to all the scolding with its own statement: “We understand. We are taking action and there will be much more to come,” the league promised. Same day, Sen. Cory A. Booker (D-NJ) introduced a bill that would KO major professional sports leagues’ tax-exempt status.
This morning, the Minnesota Vikings reversed Monday’s decision to reinstate running back Adrian Peterson. Peterson had been suspended after being charged with a felony in Texas for using a wooden switch on his 4-year-old son. The reinstatement had come one day after his team’s 30-7 loss to the New England Patriots. The reinstatement would have enabled Peterson to play against the New Orleans Saints this weekend. Concurrent with his short-lived reinstatement, a Houston TV station had reported Monday that Peterson has been accused of abusing his other 4-year-old son in a separate incident. The mother of that son has filed a report with Child Protective Services, but no charges have been filed, the station reported. Not long after the team put Peterson back on suspension, Nike announced it had suspended its endorsement contract with Peterson, and issued a statement saying the company “in no way condones child abuse or domestic violence of any kind and has shared our concerns with the NFL.”
Anheuser-Busch — the top spender in the past five Super Bowls, and one of the league’s top “official sponsors” whose sponsorship fees alone reportedly are worth an estimated $50 million — has so far taken the biggest written swing at NFL — which stands to reason given it heavy load of NFL advertising — including the river of Budweiser ads it runs in each year’s Super Bowl. “We are disappointed and increasingly concerned by the recent incidents that have overshadowed this NFL season,” A-B said. “We are not yet satisfied with the league’s handling of behaviors that so clearly go against our own company culture and moral code. We have shared our concerns and expectations with the league.”
McDonald’s statement of Tuesday was along those same lines, saying it has “communicated our concerns to the league, and we expect it to take strong and necessary actions to address these issues.”
These companies joined Visa, Campbell Soup and other firms that had issued statements on Monday, as the number of news reports about NFL players charged with domestic abuse grew. Last week, TMZ released a casino elevator tape in which Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was seen knocking out his then-girlfriend/now-wife. When the February incident first became public, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Rice for two games. After TMZ released the video, the Ravens cut Rice and the NFL suspended him indefinitely, though that did not placate critics, who called it too little too late. Rice, meanwhile, has appealed his open-ended suspension.
That same day, NFL announced it had put its VP Community Affairs Anna Isaacson in charge of running a new “social responsibility” team, and hired as advisers three domestic violence and sex crimes experts, including a former New York City prosecutor. The advisers are Lisa Friel, former head of sex-crimes prosecution for the Manhattan district attorney; Jane Randel, co-founder of NO MORE, an advocacy group focusing on domestic violence and sexual assault; and Rita Smith, the former executive director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Goodell already had appointed a former FBI director to investigate how Goodell and the league dealt with the Rice situation.
P&G’s CoverGirl “the official beauty sponsor of the NFL,” found itself in a particularly sticky situation after one of the ads in its Get Your Game Face On campaign based on NFL team colors got Photoshopped to give the model a black eye. That altered ad became the centerpiece of a Boycott CoverGirl campaign. Extra points if you guessed the ad that got Photoshopped was the one using Baltimore Ravens colors.
“CoverGirl believes domestic violence is completely unacceptable,” the brand said in a statement issued Tuesday. “We developed our NFL program to celebrate the more than 80 million female football fans. In light of recent events, we have encouraged the NFL to take swift action on their path forward to address the issue of domestic violence.”
To date, Radisson hotels has pulled its sponsorship of the Vikings. But other advertisers and sponsors to date are sticking with strongly worded statements. Dumping league ties could cost sponsors dearly; NFL bags the biggest audiences on television these days. NBC’s Sunday football was last season’s most watched television program, and the most recent Super Bowl holds the record as the most watched broadcast in television history, with an average of 111.5 million viewers.
In other This Week In NFL Damage Control news: NBC News reported Rice got domestic violence and conflict-resolution training in 2008. The training came in the form of lectures and skit-based “Life Skills” training that are part of the NFL’s Rookie Symposium. NBC airs NFL’s Sunday Night Football and also has the upcoming Super Bowl broadcast.
Founded in 1997, that Rookie Symposium is a four-day mandatory event. NBC News described it as “boarding-school-strict” in that “alcohol, visitors, cellphones, do-rags, and sunglasses are banned.” The symposium is held every June; from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., players learn “all the mistakes that await the careless” including drunk driving, guns, drugs and financial scams. There also is, NBC News reports, “a special emphasis on women and families.” The league requires every rookie to attend every session and fines those who don’t. NBC News reports Rice attended all required sessions. Zachary Minor, an NYU-trained actor who founded the NFL’s skit-based “Life Skills” program in 1997, defended his program and the NFL to NBC News, saying, “This recent situation is really heartbreaking because I know what these guys go through and I know how much the league does.
“You’re never going to hit 100 percent,” Minor said.
Yes, he really did.