There are few institutions that have had more bad press than the National Football League has had over the past few years. While national news outlets and social media have criticized the players, the league, and its policies, this massive marketing machine that is the NFL continues to rake in revenue and expand its reach.
The NFL doesn’t release its financial earnings, but Forbes estimated the NFL’s annual revenue to be around 9 billion dollars during the 2013-2014 season. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell stated he believes the NFL could achieve $25 billion in annual revenue by 2027. That’s a staggering sum of money for an organization with so many public relations black eyes.
“Forbes estimated the NFL’s annual revenue to be around 9 billion dollars during the 2013-2014 season. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell stated he believes the NFL could achieve $25 billion in annual revenue by 2027”
To call child abuse, domestic violence, dog fighting rings, gun charges, drug charges, concussions, suicides, driving under the influence, and murder charges against some of its most high profile employees a series of “public relations black eyes” minimizes some of the atrocious crimes these players have committed.
When it comes down to it, these are the individual actions of employees the NFL employs, and no company desires their employees to engage in nefarious activities that bring negative publicity. Certainly there are bigger companies and organizations out there with individual employees who drink too much and then engage in domestic violence. Sadly, murder happens every day in the United States, and people who kill others do have jobs for companies even bigger than the NFL.
So why the focus on the NFL? Why so much scrutiny on their employees’ bad behavior?
Professional football players do earn salaries that vastly exceed those of the throngs of fans who watch and admire them. In addition to the wealth, these men are in peak physical condition that would put the Roman Gladiators to shame. They have the fame and clout that gives them opportunities that simply are not available to the average fan.
These men are viewed, fairly or not, as heroes and role models.
Still, simply look at the sport for which they are being admired. They engage in a wildly violent game that is extremely high-risk, high-reward. These players jeopardize health and well-being for money, fame, and glory. They inflict cringeworthy, horrific injuries upon each other that end careers and change the course of lifetimes for the worse.
Increasingly, evidence that the repeated head trauma these players experience, also known as CTE, results in cognitive and behavioral issues during and after their playing days. HBO Sports explored an extremely compelling and emotional link between this trauma and domestic violence. Intelligent, loving men off the field turn into people they and their family members no longer recognize.
“Increasingly, evidence that the repeated head trauma these players experience, also known as CTE, results in cognitive and behavioral issues during and after their playing days.”
This, perhaps more than the crimes, looms as the biggest marketing nightmare for the National Football League. Any business will only be as successful as the employees that represent it, that nurture it and grow it, and some of these employees have been coming out against their employers.
Famously, the NFL is working to finalize a class-action lawsuit for not warning the players and hiding the damages of brain injury in the range of $1 billion. Many players of storied and gloried pasts signed up and then spoke out against the negative effects these brain injuries have caused from their playing days.
Perhaps worse for the NFL, one of their blossoming star linebackers retired from the sport after doing his own research into brain injuries. Chris Borland went on television and plainly spoke to the world about how he would rather sacrifice millions of dollars for the sake of his health. So after just one year into playing professional football, this young man turned down the wealth, fame, glory, and everything that comes along with pro football. To him, and every player playing the game, just one more hit could be the difference.
These people and these stories are by no means a definitive turning tide, but they may prove to be the fissure cracks that could lead to trouble for the NFL as the dominant and powerhouse organization it currently is.
Is this good? Do we want the NFL to fail?
This game and organization plays such an integral role in the fabric of the United States of America. Think of just some of the many people who make money off football in some way, shape, or form: stadium workers, parking lot owners, sports journalists, all the shills at ESPN, local bars that televise these games, fantasy football leagues and gurus, companies that manufacture jerseys or playing cards, and the list goes on.
The success of football to some degree means the success of America.
In the end, each person must make a decision on whether these issues and crimes are simply the individual discretions of troubled employees, or are they dangerous, systemic problems of an organization that threatens to be too big to fail?
The practical question of whether one can live without the entertainment of professional football seems to weigh heavier on our society than the moral imperative. There’s a lot that goes into this decision.
What will yours be?