The Washington Post claims that “women are pro football’s most important demographic” and wonders whether women “will forgive the NFL” for its handling of Ray Rice who punched out his girl friend (now his wife). But the Post’s article proves that women are not the NFL’s most important demographic, and it is unlikely that female pro football fans are upset with the League over the Rice affair.
According to the Post, women make up 45 percent of NFL fans. But the Nielsen survey it cites shows that women make up only about one-third of the league’s television audience.
What about game attendance? My headcount at Sunday’s Redskins game, both in the parking lot during tailgating and in the stadium during the contest, indicated that women made up about 25 percent of the crowd.
Percentages aside, the NFL would be ill-advised to alienate female fans. But there doesn’t seem to be any evidence that its handling of players who engage in domestic violence risks alienating fans, either male or female.
As the Post’s article acknowledges, female interest in football has surged since the turn of the century. During that period, as the Post also notes, nearly 80 players have been arrested for domestic violence. Discipline by the league has been light.
Rice’s case probably produced more adverse publicity than all of the other cases combined. But according to reports, female fans in Baltimore have not only forgiven the NFL, they have forgiven Rice. In fact, many women wore their Rice jerseys to the Ravens’ home opener against Pittsburgh last Thursday.
Non-Raven fans (of both genders) undoubtedly take a less forgiving view towards the player. But it’s difficult to imagine more than a handful of them boycotting the league over the matter. This is particularly true now that the commissioner has made Rice’s suspension indefinite. What football fan would give up the sport because they disagreed with the commissioner over a disciplinary decision he later reversed?
Contrary to the Post, then, any danger the Ray Rice affair poses to the NFL is not being produced from the bottom up by football fans. Rather, as usual, it is coming from the top down.
Whenever an institution becomes as massive as the NFL, the ideologically driven will attempt to enlist the institution for their own purposes. There was a time when some conservatives enlisted the NFL in an ideological sense as a symbol of American virtues. Nowadays, though, it’s the left that wants to use football, not as a metaphor for American virtue (in which it doesn’t really believe), but to advance specific agenda items and/or to shake the NFL down.
Consider this piece by Jonathan Cohn in the New Republic. The title says it all: “The NFL Owes Domestic Violence Victims a Big, Fat Check.”
Cohn should be commended for his directness, if not his logic. His argument is that by not punishing players who have engaged in domestic violence, the NFL sent the wrong message to “the rest of society.” Thus, says Cohn, “restitution” is owed.
But the NFL is not in the message-sending business and has no duty to send correct messages to “society.” If the criminal justice system is functioning properly, “society” will receive the proper message about domestic violence. If it isn’t, that’s not the NFL’s fault.
Organizations that truly help victims of domestic violence are among the worthy causes that the charitably-minded might support, but they have no special claim on the NFL.
The League is, however, partially to blame for its susceptibility to arguments like Cohn’s. If it hadn’t dabbled in disciplining players for issues having nothing to do with football, but instead had limited its jurisdiction, it would be less vulnerable to claims that its handling of specific cases “sends messages.”
The NFL isn’t just under pressure from liberal journalists — if that were the extent of it, there would nothing to worry about. Some corporate sponsors — Marriott Hotels, FedEx, PepsiCo and maybe others –have also gotten into the act.
These sponsors want to stay on the good side of liberal pressure groups like NOW, which has called for the commissioner’s resignation over his handling of the Rice affair. But should they fear a feminist consumer backlash over Ray Rice? Who is going to stop drinking Pepsi because it advertises with a sports league whose commissioner doesn’t suspend domestic violence offenders for enough games?
It doesn’t matter. Corporate America is prone to roll over (up to a point) for liberal pressure groups. They do so in part because corporate American is, itself, liberal, and in part because rolling over is the path of least resistance.
The NFL, when you come right down to it, is part of corporate America and it too can be rolled. Thus, it may well end up writing “a big, fat check” to organizations that deal with domestic violence and its consequences.
There would be nothing wrong, per se, with such a check; in fact, it might do some good. But let’s not pretend (a) that the check is “owed” or (b) that it’s necessary to keep women watching pro football.
JOHN adds: Apart from the specific context of pro football, the significant point here is that big business is predominantly liberal.