A political maxim states that the truth is nine-tenths perception. The NFL should apply this, to the social perception of its stand on off-field violence. With domestic violence committed by players being the most inflammatory and headline grabbing, the league should heed the perception of one demographic group, with particular concern. According to Scarborough Research, women make up approximately 45 percent of the NFL's fans. With a total fan base of 150 million, that translates into 67.5 million women perceiving the league's message on this issue.
The second game of the September 14th Monday night double-header, played between the Minnesota Vikings and the San Francisco 49ers, represented a missed opportunity to adjust the focus of our social perception lens. The game featured the return of Adrian Peterson, following his 15-game suspension for being indicted for child abuse against his 4-year-old son. While on the exempt list for the suspension, Peterson continued to receive his salary. Though his paid leave ended following his no-contest plea of a misdemeanor charge of reckless assault, it was reinstated after a federal judge overturned the suspension in February.
This truth is but one point of note from the game, regarding the league's messaging on violence. San Francisco 49ers running back Carlos Hyde emerged as the star of the game, ending concerns Bay area fans should have about the departure of Frank Gore. Nonetheless, a relevant concern remains.
Carlos Hyde was also the star running back at Ohio State University. While there, he received a three-game suspension following an allegation of assault against a woman at a nightclub. The incident was caught on tape by security surveillance. Assault charges were subsequently dropped by the woman involved.
Whether any sensitivity training was done with him following this incident, or upon being drafted into the NFL, is unknown to me. If it was, it certainly was not present during his postgame, on-the-field interview with Lindsay Czarniak, the female sideline reporter for the game. When asked to describe his running style, Hyde responded, "I run violent." He went on to repeat this with bold insistence, something he also did while attending Ohio State.
The optics of this would be obvious, were it not for the cultural myopia of the NFL, and to some extent, the social myopia of the league's fan base. In the wake of Aaron Hernandez, Ray McDonald, Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson and Greg Hardy, the league nor his team has not counseled (enough?) Hyde, on the linkage of personal conduct regarding domestic violence and assault against women, to language used in an interview -- particularly with a female reporter. This speaks to a truth-perception issue evidenced by an analysis done by ESPN's Outside the Lines:
Of the 48 players considered guilty of domestic violence from 2000-2014, the league suspended players for only one game or no games in 88 percent of the cases, according to the OTL report. That means that 27 players received no suspension, while 15 players were suspended for one game.
Adjunct to this, fan violence has become as commonplace during many NFL games as the singing of the national anthem. In fact, following Monday night's game between Minnesota and San Francisco, the same game featuring Peterson and Hyde, a Vikings fan was savagely attacked, mob-style, by 49ers fans who took offense to his biased banter. Perception meets truth.
Player and coach interviews offer teams and the league an opportunity to provide game insights and analysis, chalkboard sound bites, support for fellow teammates and compliance with mandatory media obligations. Such interviews also provide a chance to demonstrate an earnest effort at amending the mentality that sponsors the perception problem the league now faces.
I am not naive enough to think that new words can be spoken like magical incantations to suddenly change the culture and mentality that has long defined the NFL. However, old words will certainly guarantee the status quo. Conduct is offspring to thought, and all thoughts are conceived by words. New words, new thoughts, new conduct.
Along with mandating media obligations, perhaps the NFL and its member teams can mandate sensitivity training for its players. At the very least, send out a memo about language and messaging. Carlos Hyde could have been coached about different adjectives to describe his running style like "unforgiving", "unrelenting", "rampaging", "ferocious" or "inhospitable". An amusing euphemism might have made for a better sound bite: "I run like somebody took my lunch money" or "like somebody stepped on my new shoes". Anything but "violent".
I'll spell it out: sixty-seven million, five-hundred thousand woman are watching -- and listening.