Needless violence on and off the field should undermine the popularity of professional football. Sadly, that isn't the case. In fact, violence is accepted, even encouraged, by the National Football League because it sells.
The money machine is not broken, but the NFL culture is, fostering the brutalization of men, women and children. As an insider who has represented many NFL players, I am outraged, but not surprised, that both the league and the players' own union do so little to protect players from serious injury or those near to them from domestic abuse.
Several recent cases have generated big and almost daily headlines and forced a reluctant league to take action against players who have criminal cases. The NFL recently suspended Baltimore Raven Ray Rice for two games after he was seen on video dragging his unconscious girlfriend from an elevator. Later, a second video showed the knockout punch. Only then was the suspension increased.
Help me here. Even before the second video surfaced, did the league think she had fainted? No one made that claim. Does the NFL need YouTube proof to mete out serious punishment for serious acts? By way of comparison, the 49ers suspended announcer Ted Robinson for two games for commenting on the matter.
Minnesota Viking Adrian Peterson got a slap on the wrist for taking a switch to his 4-year-old son. The NFL strategy clearly has been to punish marginal players and shield the stars: keep up appearances, keep players on the field and keep bad publicity out of the news.
Sure, the legal system will have a go at Rice and Peterson and many others. But the owners and the union won't do much, and instead are hiding behind a phony concern that the accused would be subject to "double jeopardy." Wrong. The constitutional protection against double jeopardy applies only to criminal matters. In fact, the NFL has every right to take action against those whose behavior is detrimental to its business. Certainly beating your girlfriend or kid should qualify.
The NFL's hands-off position plays right into the players' belief that they are special. And they are -- superbly talented, the best at what they do. But they also feel special off the field. They are the kings in a celebrity-driven land. For them, rules are bent, contracts are big and fame is heady. Players might justifiably feel that they have been inoculated against all consequences.
But in fact, they are not. Even the bad guys are victims of a system that actually rewards violence on game day and turns a blind eye the rest of the week.
I am troubled that the union always sides with the aggressor in player-on-player violence. In April 2013, I wrote to DeMaurice Smith, the executive director of the NFL Players Association, and to Roger Goodell, the commissioner of the NFL. As a representative of numerous players, I expressed my concern about unnecessary violence. I've yet to receive even a courtesy reply from either or see substantive changes in play. If the owners don't care about their investment in players and the union doesn't care about its members, then who cares about girlfriends, wives and kids?
Violence is ingrained in the NFL culture, but small inroads have been made. In 2009 and 2010, the New Orleans Saints paid players a bounty for inflicting injury that forced an opponent off the field. (And the bounties were pitifully small to boot.) That's over for now. Lawsuits led to some rule changes to discourage gratuitous hits, many suspected of causing long-term brain damage. Gone, too, is the TV lead-in to NFL games where helmets clash and fracture into smithereens.
Advertisers and sponsors have the clout to propel further change: Advertising dollars talk. Fans have clout, too. Ticket and merchandising sales have influence, as does TV viewership. But I worry that too many fans care more about winning than what's right or wrong, and that the NFL cares most about the bottom line.
Legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden famously observed, "Sports do not build character. They reveal it." If that is true, then many of the NFL's owners, executives, coaches and players don't measure up to the highest ideals of sport or the responsibilities of their privileged positions. They sell violence on the field and dismiss it off the field, and in so doing they sell the game -- and all its stakeholders -- short.
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Leland Faust is a financial expert, author, speaker and triathlete. He is the founder of CSI Capital Management and served as Chief Investment Officer for 33 years, managing over 1.5 billion. He is one of only two investment advisors to be included in the list of 100 most powerful people in sports by the Sporting News. He's was selected by Barron's as one of the top independent investment advisors in the country. He is first book is scheduled to be released in 2016. Follow Leland on twitter @LelandFaust. He has represented more than 150 NFL players. He is available for appearances and speaking opportunities.