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NFL Robot

The NFL has been spending a ton of money recently in an effort to placate outside influences that are intent on dipping their fingers into the lucrative cash machine that the league has become, but additionally to repair the damage incurred to their once stellar reputation. It isn’t enough that all the players are forced to wear pink each October to raise awareness for breast cancer; no, those who see a bull’s eye and dollar signs on the NFL logo want much more. When a recent domestic abuse case, involving a high-profile player, went public, it wasn’t long before the commercials began to run.

“No More” is the Public Service Announcement that suddenly appeared out of nowhere. It not only runs on commercial breaks during football games, but also as a standalone. The first series of ads features football players, with serious expressions on their faces, repeating scripted lines that seem to be directed at the public; advising all of us fans to stop beating our girlfriends and wives. “Now, y’all know we have a huge problem in our culture with domestic violence and since we’re all in this together, we’re pleading with you to stop. No more!” When I first saw the ad I was incredulous. I thought, I don’t have an issue with domestic violence; you do. These commercials need to be shown in every football locker room in the country as part of their rookie orientation.

The next series of ads is even more hypocritical than the original. Titled, “Speechless,”  it features some of the same football players, only this time they aren’t speaking; they just stare into the camera with sorrowful, shamed expressions on their faces, some close to tears, and at the end is a scroll at the bottom of the screen stating, DOMESTIC VIOLENCE AND SEXUAL ASSAULT ARE HARD SUBJECTS FOR EVERYONE TO TALK ABOUT. I’m sure I’m one of millions who read that line and thought, I don’t have a problem talking about domestic violence. One of the players featured is Cris Carter and he does a wonderful job wringing his hands and looking very uncomfortable; appearing to be on the edge of a complete emotional breakdown.  Who are these ads supposed to reach?

The next event appears to be unrelated to the “No More” campaign. Not long after the events in Ferguson, Missouri, where an unarmed teen named Michael Brown performed a strong arm robbery at a local convenience store and then attacked a police officer and was shot and died during the encounter, a handful of St. Louis Rams football players, in a display reminiscent of Tommy Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, raised their hands in solidarity with Mr. Brown prior to running on the field during that week’s game. The raised hands were symbolic and meant to mimic what Mr. Brown did prior to being shot, “Hands up, don’t shoot.” Only Mr. Brown didn’t raise his hands and say “don’t shoot.”

How do these two events, the PSA’s and the Ram’s player’s display, coincide? I believe that the NFL has become infiltrated, by their own choosing, with players who not only find it difficult to talk about domestic violence and sexual abuse, presumably because it hits too close to home, but who also relate to and support the behavior of a teenager who robbed a store, resisted arrest, and attacked a police officer. It has become a huge public relations issue for a league that is already under attack, not only by forces within the culture, but by the government. They are now faced with trying to soften the image and tamp down the aggression of a group of men, some of whom have a history of criminal offenses including domestic violence and robbery, who have come from the tough environment of the city streets, and whose toughness has served them well in a league that features violence; week in and week out. Violence that has been sold by the NFL, but which has now seen the culture at large recoil in shock and become squeamish about the monster that has been created. It will be interesting to see if the NFL can turn the Frankenstein monster into a lovable showman who can sing and dance, “Puttin’ on the ritz.” They’ve certainly invested some big dollars into the initial effort.