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The National Football League emerged as America’s true pastime shortly after baseball’s 232-game record long lockout in 1994. Parity, star talent and the allure of fantasy football has helped the NFL develop into, arguably, one of the world’s most popular sports associations. The Super Bowl could easily be voted as the single biggest sports event and the NFL draft routinely rakes in the most media coverage. And the revenue drained from the NFL’s breeding ground, collegiate football, rivals some other mainstream professional sports. The buzz circling the NFL over the last few years has mostly been positive until recently, after a string of cringe-worthy events have given the sport a black eye.

Still cleaning up the mess from the Ray Rice fallout; still keeping hush on Carolina defensive end Greg Hardy’s domestic assault case; and still working out a new drug policy—this has been a stumbling week from the profit monster.

The stories have been controversial, from Rice’s video recorded assault of his then-fiancée to beloved Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson’s child abuse charge. Even the owner of America’s Team, Jerry Jones, is facing a sexual assault lawsuit while his Cowboys look shaky.

The NFL’s prestige has been built strong enough to withstand hits like the ones it took this week, but it’s still unwanted criticism that could ultimately affect the sport. Organizations have already called for NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s resignation and the fallout from the Rice story could open some serious trap doors inside the league. Even the weekend’s National Football League Players’ Association meeting to alter the drug policy could lead to reinstatements of current suspended drug violators that could spark a league-wide wildfire.

Simply put: Times are tough in the NFL right now. Another arrest or cover-up will surely place Goodell’s employment on shaky ground. The face of the league is changing, and once profits start being affected then heads could surely roll. Goodell is already set up to take a huge fall over Rice’s scandal. With the ongoing investigation by former FBI director Robert S. Mueller III into the timeline of the NFL’s receipt of Rice’s video tape, Goodell could be made out to be a serious liar after stating that his office never saw a copy of the video tape until earlier this week. When the commissioner of the league has his neck on the line, it’s safe to say that the NFL is reeling right now.

Profits change opinions, however, and big-time performances can easily erase a public blemish. And in spite of both Peterson and Hardy being benched for their respective games on Sept. 14, Rice may nevertheless have a chance to reenter the league under his current indefinite suspension.

No matter how many hits the NFL takes, it’s too strong to falter. Similar to the mafia, it might be safe to assume the culprits in the NFL are untouchable. The media will feast off the smorgasbord of drama that the league has laid out, fans will get upset and organizations will rally and attack. But the NFL still remains a gold mine and until that changes, the world can be as outraged as possible and it won’t matter. The cash register will continue to ring and the National Football League will march on to make millions, because despite its community efforts and quest for a shiny public image, the league is about its bottom dollar and that, if nothing else, fuels what has now become America’s Pastime.

 

Stephen D. Riley

Special to the AFRO