Despite Abuse Scandals, The NFL Remains As Popular As Ever

A new poll indicates that NFL fans plan to keep watching despite the recent domestic abuse scandals.

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A new NBC News/Marist poll finds that, while Americans disapprove of the manner in which the National Football League has handled incidents like the Ray Rice domestic violence case, they do not plan on changing the amount of football they watch:

So much for all that outrage. Nearly 90 percent of Americans say the recent outcry about domestic violence in the NFL hasn’t changed how much professional football they watch — and less than a third of the nation believes NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell should resign.

That’s the result of an exclusive NBC News/Marist poll, which also finds that a majority of Americans – including nearly six in 10 self-described football fans – say they disapprove of the way the NFL has handled the domestic-violence allegations.

The poll comes after a series of damaging stories indicating that NFL officials had turned a blind eye to systemic domestic violence among some of its players. The mounting controversies began with a new video of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice knocking his now-wife unconscious in an Atlantic City elevator. The NFL had suspended Rice for two games due to the incident. But the Ravens later released the All-Pro running back after the video became public, and the NFL suspended him indefinitely.

Since then, other allegations of domestic violence by NFL players has surfaced, including by Minnesota Vikings star Adrian Peterson, who was indicted for beating his 4-year-old son with a tree branch to punish him, and byArizona Cardinals player Jonathan Dwyer, who was arrestedfor allegedly assaulting his wife.

The NBC/Marist poll shows that 53 percent of Americans and 57 percent of football fans disapprove of the way the NFL has handled the recent reports of domestic violence. The survey finds that men are more disapproving of the NFL (55 percent say so) than women (50 percent).

Despite the criticism, fewer than a third of Americans – 29 percent – believe Goodell should be forced to resign.

And a whopping 86 percent of fans say the domestic violence news hasn’t changed the amount of professional football they watch. That’s compared will 11 percent of fans who say they’re less likely to watch, and 3 percent who are more likely to watch.

On some level, I suppose, there’s not very much surprising about this result. Sports in general, and football in particular, have become so ingrained as a part of American culture that it’s unlikely that a single scandal like this is going to cause people to stop watching games in the middle of the season. Despite two weeks of coverage of this story, plus the addition of the child abuse allegations against Adrian Peterson and the spousal and child abuse allegations against Arizona Cardinals Running Back Jonathan Dwyer, ratings for the Sunday afternoon NFL games, as well as Sunday Night Football, Monday Night Football, and Thursday Night Football remain as high as ever and show no signs of declining. If anything, ratings are likely to increase as we get deeper into the season and the abuse scandals fade into memory while fans concentrate on their favorite teams. In other words, just another normal season.

In the end, this is why it’s unlikely that we’ll see the league take major steps beyond those that it has taken already. Contrary to the predictions I was making last week, I now believe the Roger Goodell is likely to survive as NFL Commissioner through the end of the season, and far beyond most likely. In the end, his fate is controlled by the owners and the owners are happy with him because he continues to make a huge amount of money for the them. There is some concern for the league in protecting its image and brand, which is why the initial response to the Ray Rice situation was a problem. That problem has now been rectified, though, and the response to the Peterson and Dwyer cases seems to make clear that, going forward, players charged with domestic violence will end up being suspended. It will be a suspension with pay, because that’s apparently what the agreement with the NFL Players Association requires, but at the very least these players will not be on the field on a regular basis until their cases are resolved by the court system. While there will be some advocates and talking heads on cable news who probably won’t be pleased with this, it will likely be enough to please the fans and, in the end, that’s all that matters. At the very least, though, the fact the vast majority of Americans are saying that their NFL viewing habits will not be impacted by the recent scandals is what matters most to the league, and for better or worse they will see it as a sign that the status quo is, by and large, entirely acceptable.

FILED UNDER: Entertainment, Popular Culture, Sports, ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. SalVito says:

    Memo to the NFL: 90% of us dont care!! We care about our favorite team, gambling, or fanatsy. That’s it. Nobody ever thought these guys were angels no matter how many fake United Way commercials they threw at us over the years. The faux outrage is just ridiculous. i thought Id be watching football my whole life, but I;m not sure now if this is what its going to be like. Hell, Id take 60 minutes of Shannon Sharpe talking jibberish over any of these sanctimonious $#$$

  2. superdestroyer says:

    the NFL has been smart in making the games about teams and gambling instead of following the NBA model of making the games about personalities. The teams can dump players in a heart beat because they are easily replaceable. Also, since a team has 55 players on it, it is not seen as a huge problem for any one team.

  3. al-Ameda says:

    The NFL is the golden child of national professional sports. This is the first time that I’ve seen the NFL struggle. Usually their marketing and image juggernaut runs roughshod over incidents and occurrences that would be devastating to most businesses.

    Setting aside the recent discovery by fans that many NFL players are involved in possibly criminal activities involving domestic spousal and child abuse (up to now, it just didn’t happen) – consider the use of performance enhancing drugs. The public excoriates Major League Baseball, yet apparently does not care at all about PED usage by NFL players, in fact NFL fans see ‘roid rage’ as entertaining or amusing rather than appalling.

    I’m not appalled by the current ‘scandal’ afflicting the NFL, possibly because I’ve never seen athletes or entertainers as role models or somehow without serious flaws – most are okay, some are troubled and toxic – the same as in my non-entertainment world.

    Final note: as I get older I’ve lost some interest in the NFL and I now have increased interest in the NBA.

  4. KM says:

    @Doug:

    At the very least, though, the fact the vast majority of Americans are saying that their NFL viewing habits will not be impacted by the recent scandals is what matters most to the league, and for better or worse they will see it as a sign that the status quo is, by and large, entirely acceptable.

    Football is life for so many, an inexorable giant that casts its shadow over parts of people’s lives you wouldn’t think it would touch. So many excuses, cover-ups and look-the-other-ways just for the sake of entertainment, for money. Athletes get passes on things that would cause a “lesser” person to loose their job, their freedom or even their lives. Fans angrily challenge you, not on the merits of the issues, but on the fact that you’ve ruined a “career” and messed up a game they want to watch. The Almighty Pigskin is a jealous god and will not tolerate things like pesky Ethics or troublesome Objective Standards to challenge its monotheism. Everything for the Game. Leave whatever qualms you have behind and come sit at the altar of 4th and Down. There is nothing but the Stadium – there is no Spoon controversy.

    We sacrifice our morals and our conscious gladly for an hour of entertainment…. and do not like it when someone points out what that says about us as a culture or people. Don’t care who you are or what terrible things you do in the dark – just run that damn ball! Go go go GO TEAM!!!!

  5. SalVito says:

    @al-Ameda:

    No one is outraged except the media. We’ll see, but I’d wager the Denver-Seattle rematch Sunday will have the usual stellar ratings. it might even break the record for a Sunday afternoon game.

  6. James says:

    @al-Ameda: While they may not be role models they are certainly not like everyone else. Players at all levels (and many different sports though football is one of the main ones) are given a pass, as Km said, for behaviors that would land non-athletes in trouble. And it’s not just athletes, Penn State was will to cover for a child molester for the sake of the team. For some reason we’ve decided that anything goes as long as the team can play. It may not be Christians and lions but it’s as morally bankrupt.

  7. Franklin says:

    While I care about the individual cases, it hardly means I’m going to stop watching all football because there’s some football players who are losers in real life. Does that rapist at FSU make me root against them? Sure. (Yes, I know the difference between college and pro football, but the same issues exist.) Do I want him prosecuted? Yes. Will I still watch the college football playoffs if he is in them? Yes.

  8. Pinky says:

    It’s very telling that males and females had nearly identical polling results. You can’t say that “a majority” disapproves when it’s 53% +/-4%. You can’t even really say that fans and nonfans had different answers on anything but whether or not they’d heard a lot about this story. And given most people’s anti-everything stand, 50% disapproval of a major corporation’s actions is pretty low. All in all, this tells me that no one cares about this.

  9. James Pearce says:

    @al-Ameda:

    “This is the first time that I’ve seen the NFL struggle.”

    Me too, but what bothers me is how disingenuous the whole thing has become. I think there’s definitely a thing going on where “good liberals,” in order to be “good liberals,” must now hate on the NFL. Over concussions. Over the Redskins. Over Ray Rice. Over Adrian Petersen and Michael Sam and Richie Incognito being an asshole.

    Hate to say it, fellow liberals, but if this is the path you intend to tread, I will not follow.

    Example, this nonsense from Dr. Peggy Drexler:

    Can you believe in women’s rights and enjoy football? Can you be angry about Ray Rice and the NFL’s inadequate handling of him but still feel okay about watching the game? The answer, to both, is no.

    To quote Philip Seymour Hoffman in Charlie Wilson’s War: “Excuse me, but what the @#$%?”

  10. Davebo says:

    The scandal isn’t that Ray Rice beat his wife IMO. It’s that Roger Goodell thought people would actually believe him when he said he never saw the second video.

    Either he is a grossly incompetent 22 million dollar a year Commissioner, or he just really could care less what the fans think of him.

  11. SalVito says:

    @Davebo:

    He could care less and fans don’t really care about Goodell. They only think about Goodell when he suspends a player on their team. Commissioners in the NBA, MLB, and NFL are like justices on the Supreme Court. They are there for practically life or retirement and people stop thinking about them once they begin office.

  12. Jr says:

    @James Pearce: Bingo, I am liberal and this mob mentality that a lot of them have picked up against the NFL is annoying. If your really care about domestic abuse, then focus on the legal system that is where the problem truly is.

  13. gVOR08 says:

    @James Pearce: @Jr: Personally, as a good liberal of long standing, I got no dog in this fight except that it’s entertaining as heck. Seriously, how can you not get a chuckle out of watching alcohol peddlers Anheuser Busch defend their family friendly image? Or a conservative friend of mine who’s outraged that Rice is being unfairly punished because it’s called domestic violence, when Rice seems to actually be benefiting from it? Or Limbaugh worried about the wussification of his beloved football ’cause he’s so macho? Or a decorative hood ornament like Goodell failing? It’s hilarious.

  14. al-Ameda says:

    @James Pearce:

    Me too, but what bothers me is how disingenuous the whole thing has become. I think there’s definitely a thing going on where “good liberals,” in order to be “good liberals,” must now hate on the NFL. Over concussions. Over the Redskins. Over Ray Rice. Over Adrian Petersen and Michael Sam and Richie Incognito being an asshole.

    I generally agree with you on this.

    I just can’t get over the fact that millions of people are now SHOCKED that some professional football players are involved in domestic spousal and child abuse, DUI-related mayhem, and other unsavory activities, SHOCKED.

    What, they thought that these guys were generally busy curing cancer?

  15. James Pearce says:

    @al-Ameda:

    I just can’t get over the fact that millions of people are now SHOCKED that some professional football players are involved in domestic spousal and child abuse, DUI-related mayhem, and other unsavory activities, SHOCKED.

    Hate to say, but I can.

    Everyone’s trying to impress their friends on Facebook these days. This does not lead to a surplus of original thinking.

  16. Tyrell says:

    There has been a deluge of grandstanding, soapboxing, hypocrisy (CBS – Rhianna meltdown), twists, turns, and about faces. The best standard should be played out in the legal arena. If the police don’t have a problem with it, take no action, or make an arrest; that should be it. If the NFL wants to adopt some sort of standards, rubrics, and consequences, ok. But it should apply for future cases not some sort of phony, hypocritical retroactive punishment to appease a small group that is creating a big scene, yet has been silent all this time. I would like to know what the other pro sports organizations are doing, of which these groups and media have been strangely silent: NBA, MLB, PBA, NHL (violence unlimited, fighting gets you a 5 minute time out water break), WWE (weird things like hitting people with tables and chairs), tennis, NASCAR.
    The NFL attendance and tv viewers have been flat for the last few years. This, the result of over exposure.
    After Ray Rice’s girl friend came out and spoke, the focus turned to the Commissioner . Mr. Goodell is not the one going around hitting women or either persons.
    All of this focus on a sport while the middle east has blown up and Russia is on the move again. Strange. Who cares about some over paid, pampered “athletes”.

  17. PD Shaw says:

    @al-Ameda: I too find this to be an odd social moment in sport’s history. Teams are being expected to punish players for conduct unrelated to their job (unlike say use of PEDs or gambling); perhaps in part because of dissatisfaction with the legal system’s approach to domestic battery.

    But when did sport’s clubs become morality police? This is a mercenary arena. I know these players sign moral clauses in their contracts, but I always understood these to be selfish, triggered by the team’s concerns over loss of revenue from their fanbase. How many Vikings fans want to see an important player suspended, and how many despite the behavior, but don’t want to punish the whole team for it?

    As I’ve gotten older, I’ve drifted away from interest in the NFL and towards Baseball. And as a parent, we’ve been glad that our son has mainly stuck with soccer, baseball and basketball. And watching grade-school kids practice football, it looks like aggression training.

  18. Tyrell says:

    The issue of “tax exempt status non profit” concerning the NFL is leading to confusion and misunderstanding. The NFL teams are not tax exempt. Only the NFL administrative office is. And this is confusing and weird, but it means nothing, just as the misguided politicians and congress members who want to make to take this designation away know is meaningless. This is being done over the phony issue of the name of a team which is owned by a person. Taking away the tax exempt status will not cost the owner one red cent. Much ado about nothing. Most of the people and fans don’t care, and even most native Americans who have been polled. Just more politicians trying to build up their own self and being consumed by their own greed. They must think that the average American is dumb.

  19. al-Ameda says:

    @PD Shaw:

    But when did sport’s clubs become morality police? This is a mercenary arena. I know these players sign moral clauses in their contracts, but I always understood these to be selfish, triggered by the team’s concerns over loss of revenue from their fanbase.

    Indeed, it is as if the public and the media are clamoring for Goodell to be the morals police and to nanny the players. To be sure, Goodell brought this on himself when he unilaterally meted out ‘justice’ in such a strange and seemingly arbitrary manner.

    Generally, I would let the justice system handle it – if it is legally determined that a player is guilty as charged, then that player will be fined, sentenced, or both. After that it is primarily up to individual teams to decide if they want to invoke the morals clauses in players’ contracts and release him.

  20. wr says:

    @James Pearce: Please let me know when and by whom this “Dr. Peggy Drexler” was appointed to tell us what defines a “good liberal.” Until then I will continue to assume that she’s just another self-appointed assclown on the internet and base my sports choices on my own beliefs and not hers.

  21. James Pearce says:

    @wr:

    Until then I will continue to assume that she’s just another self-appointed assclown on the internet and base my sports choices on my own beliefs and not hers.

    That would be wise, I think.

  22. DrDaveT says:

    I’m amazed at how many people seem to think that this is somehow about NFL players. The sad truth is that professional sports is just the window that allows the privileged to occasionally peek into the lives of everyone else. There’s nothing distinctive about the behavior of NFL players toward their wives and children; it’s pretty much representative of what you would see if you peeked into the homes of the people they grew up with. The difference is that, because they’re NFL stars, they make the national news when they beat their wives or kids, or get arrested in bar fights, or are present when someone gets shot, or whatever.

    Anyone who wants to really make a difference will ignore the NFL and participate in organizations trying to change the behavior of the other 99% of the socioeconomic cohorts that professional athletes are drawn from. Or, to put that another way — it would do much more good to correct the behavior of 5% of NFL players’ former classmates than to correct the behavior of 100% of NFL players.

  23. Robert C says:

    It’s a dying sport.
    The concussion issue is real..it’s not the big obvious one, but rather all the little small ones.
    The sport is losing “soccer moms”, which will kill it.
    I think the NFL is overexposed and has made numerous bad decisions only to make more money.
    – Draft over three days..dumb.
    -Moving the draft back 3 weeks, despite coaches and GMs opposition, only to increase TV ratings…dumb
    – Football every Thusday, and Monday, and all Sunday..too much..who has time?
    -Potentially adding a third wild card team…who wants to watch an 8-8 team in the playoffs.
    -18 games seasons…which means the potential for 9-9 playoff teams…lame

    Finally Goodall. A sycophant to the owners. Bringing in Mueller is all for show…a whitewash of his mismanagement of Ray Rice.

    RC

  24. Tyrell says:

    @Robert C: But football is not losing on Friday nights for high school games or Saturdays for colleges – both big schools and small: popular as ever. Over exposure is certainly a factor. Sunday night, Monday night, and Thursday nights: something has to go.

  25. Tyrell says:

    People are now tiring of the overdone, constant attention on the media. The media and certain groups keep fanning the flames like a sirrocco wind in a California forest fire ! Why? The people are ready to move on. Baseball is heading toward the playoffs, football is well under way, the NHL is cranking up, NASCAR is heating up, and WWE is getting wilder.
    Here are some unanswered questions: how about charges for Rice ? Where’s Atty. General Holder ? He was so quick to head to Ferguson and get involved there. Why has the media and these groups turned on Commissioner Goodell ? I think we know part of the answer there. Why have other sports not been mentioned ? Why are these people jumping on the NFL when other sports have big problems too ? The NHL pretty much encourages fighting and rough play.
    Interesting “news conference” with the commissioner on CNN. Some jerk jumped up and started screaming, then hollared out something about “don’t put me on the elevator”. Evidently this kook had missed his daily session at the drive through shock treatment center (“supersize that please”), or his frontal lobotomy did not go so good.

  26. Jr says:

    @Robert C: Actually it is quite the opposite, the NFL is bigger today then it has ever been. Revenue is up, ratings are up, advertising hasn’t been better. Out of all pro sports in America, the NFL is in a league of it’s own.

    Baseball….now there is a sport that is dying.

  27. President Camacho says:

    Our DV laws in this country are a joke. The rage will pass, sadly. I am not a NFL fan. Never have been. The fact that a bunch of these guys are criminals isn’t surprising. They get treated like gods their entire life where the regular rules don’t apply; kind of like Hollywood stars For many of them, they grew up in tough places.

    Then we wonder why so many are broke and medically broken in their 30s and 40s. Set up for failure

  28. bill says:

    @President Camacho: they actually have a better chance to get it right, but many squander it on instant gratification. at least they had a chance.

  29. President Camacho says:

    @bill: I don’t disagree. Hopefully some good mentorship will come out of this for many players

  30. Eric Florack says:

    A snip from Glenn seems to address this…

    SO THIS PIECE BY JAMELLE BOUIE SAYS THAT blacks share the views of most Americans on corporal punishment, and that’s the white man’s fault. Take it from somebody with African family — the attitudes on corporal punishment over there are pretty stout, too.

    Bouie’s real problem is that while 70% of Americans support corporal punishment, basically nobody among the politico-journalistic Clerisy does. So defending blacks on the ground that they’re just like other Americans risks someone throwing an oikophobia flag — ewww, just like other Americans? Yuk.

    So, what’s happening here is most Americans don’t se corporal punishment as an issue. Indeed, the issue, the problem, is the lack of it. Most Americans also recognize a desperate political play when they see one.