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LOS ANGELES – The National Football League faced a backlash from sponsors on Tuesday, September 16 as it battled to stem negative headlines from a string of violent off-field incidents involving star players.
Brewer Anheuser-Busch, one of the world’s richest league’s biggest corporate sponsors, issued a strongly worded statement saying the NFL must do better in its handling of controversies, which have dominated the first two weeks of the new season.
“We are disappointed and increasingly concerned by the recent incidents that have overshadowed this NFL season,” Anheuser-Busch 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.”
The dissatisfaction of such a key corporate partner could prove the biggest threat yet to the tenure of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
Goodell came under fire for his handling of Ray Rice, the Baltimore running back who was sacked by the Ravens and banned indefinitely from the league – but only after a video of him punching his wife surfaced this month.
Goodell had earlier banned Rice just two games for the February incident, provoking charges that the NFL was soft on domestic violence.
Although Goodell has since moved to shore up the league’s domestic violence disciplinary code, the hits just keep on coming.
Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson has been welcomed back by his team despite facing a charge of child abuse in Texas.
Peterson is accused of whipping his four-year-old son so that the child bore visible injuries days later.
The Carolina Panthers have meanwhile performed an about-face and dropped defensive end Greg Hardy, who played the first game of the season as he appeals his conviction for assaulting a former girlfriend and threatening to kill her.
But San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh insisted Monday that the team wouldn’t “flinch” in the face of calls to bench defensive end Ray McDonald, who has played the first two games of the season even as he faces charges of striking his pregnant girlfriend.
The ugliness of the incidents has sparked widespread comment, with the governor of Minnesota calling for Peterson to be suspended until his case is resolved.
“Whipping a child to the extent of visible wounds, as has been alleged, should not be tolerated in our state,” Governor Mark Dayton said.
Dayton’s comments on Peterson follow demands from US lawmakers and groups including the National Organization of Women that the league “step up its game” on dealing with off-field violence by players.
The furor has overshadowed other ongoing issues tarnishing the league – such as the danger of concussion and brain injury to players in the violent game and the ongoing calls for the Washington Redskins to change their racially charged name.
The firms that have long banked on the league’s immense popularity are clearly getting antsy.
Radisson hotels on Monday suspended their sponsorship of the Vikings pending further assessment of the Peterson case.
Cosmetics maker Cover Girl – the “official beauty sponsor of the NFL” issued a statement saying it had encouraged the NFL to “take swift action on their path forward to address the issue of domestic violence”.
Online activists seeking Goodell’s ouster have used a digitally altered image from Cover Girl’s “Get Your Game Face On” advertising campaign, which features women glamorously made up in the colors of each of the 32 NFL team.
A first version of the doctored image showing the model sporting Ravens colors with a black eye was posted on social media on September 11.
It has been followed by a further retouched image, often linked to the “#Goodellmustgo” campaign calling for the ouster of the commissioner and a boycott of NFL sponsors. – Rappler.com