Boy, drafting an openly gay player sure has brought shame to the National Football League, hasn’t it?
These days, the NFL muckety-mucks may look upon the time when league officials were worried about whether coaches and players could deal with something – having a gay co-worker – other workplaces long ago accepted as the last gasp of a dying era of blissful ignorance.
Now, the league has been rocked to its core by a serial unfolding of alleged player assaults on women and children.
First, there was the infamous videotape of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice beating his then-fiancée (now wife) Janay Palmer-Rice. The original videotape release showed Rice dragging her unconscious body out of the elevator. When a more complete version surfaced, it revealed that Rice had struck her viciously – and it appeared he might even have spit on her immobile body as he dragged her out of the elevator.
Rice’s initial punishment was a two-game suspension.
The release of the full video, though, unleashed wave upon wave of criticism and both the NFL and the Ravens – belatedly, even reluctantly – acted.
The Ravens cut Rice and the league suspended him indefinitely, but not before NFL officials – including the league commissioner, Roger Goodell, came under fire for their handling of the situation.
Then the Adrian Peterson revelations came along.
Peterson, a Minnesota Vikings running back who is one of pro football’s biggest stars, faces charges of child abuse and child neglect. Law enforcement officials say Peterson beat his four-year son with a stick until the boy bled.
Peterson says he merely was disciplining his son.
The Vikings initially put Peterson on inactive status for a week, which meant he didn’t play. The team then announced Peterson would begin practicing and playing with the squad again.
Another tsunami of criticism – and likely sponsor withdrawals – washed over the Vikings and the league.
And, again, the NFL and the team responded, grudgingly, by putting Peterson on the exempt list, which means he won’t be playing and he can’t have any contact with the team.
Along the way, there have been a series of other stories about lesser-known NFL players involved in cases of domestic violence.
To those reports, too, the NFL has responded with the grace and dexterity of a hippopotamus trying to do a tap dance.
It’s hard to know exactly where all of this is going to go, but a couple of things are clear.
The first is that the NFL’s prominence and the celebrity of its star players are so all-encompassing they tend to overwhelm all other considerations.
It’s been illuminating to see the ways in which the focus in episodes that started with a woman and a child being hurt has been dragged away from them to the powerful men who are supposed to have hurt them.
We spend a lot of time and energy now focusing on what we should do or feel about Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson and even Roger Goodell.
And it is appropriate that we should hold them accountable.
But it would be nice if we could devote even a fraction of the attention Rice, Peterson and Goodell have received to figuring out how we might help the woman knocked unconscious in an elevator by a man who soon would swear to love and care for her or the little boy apparently beat bloody with a stick by the man – his father – he was supposed to be able to trust to always protect him from harm.
The second thing is that we now have a clear understanding of the NFL power brokers’ priorities.
League officials reacted with little more than a shrug when the video of Rice battering his fiancée or the reports of Peterson bloodying his little boy first surfaced.
The NFL only shot into action when sponsors threatened boycotts if the league didn’t act.
The message was clear.
In the eyes of the NFL’s decision-makers, it’s no great crime to beat up a woman or a child.
But if a player damages the brand – well, that’s another matter altogether.
John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students.