Listen or watch the coverage of the NFL players that have recently been accused or convicted of “crimes.” Child abuse, domestic abuse…last year it was murder!
Sports media can’t say the word “crime.”
- Ray Rice, running back of the Baltimore Ravens, was charged with simple assault and domestic violence in February, but there was no conviction. He pleaded not guilty and agreed to get treatment through an intervention program. First there was a video of him dragging an unconscious and limp fiancé from an elevator in Atlantic City. Then another video became public. This one showed him knocking her out with one punch. He and his fiancé are now man and wife.
- Adrian Peterson, running back of the Minnesota Vikings, was indicted, but not convicted of child abuse. He took a switch and whipped his four year old son, leaving marks, welts and future scars. He admits to doing it. His defense is he used the same kind of discipline with his child that he experienced as a child growing up in East Texas. A trial has yet to take place.
- Greg Hardy, defensive end of the Carolina Panthers, was convicted by a judge of domestic violence. North Carolina’s law gives the convicted an opportunity for a second trial, this one in front of peers, if found guilty during a bench trial. The second trial has yet to take place.
None of this behavior is new to the NFL or any league, professional or collegiate. The difference today is social media, a medium that can quickly sway public opinion. And it’s that opinion that has largely been ignored by leagues such as the NFL. In the past if a player was accused of some vile behavior, the NFL’s public relations spin machine came to the rescue.
Now with social media, the NFL has no idea how to react or punish its players.
Watch ESPN. Listen to sports talk radio. The anchors, reporters or talk hosts can’t say the word “crime.” In each of the above examples, a very serious crime was committed. Serious and frankly beyond debate. Yet the people paid to report and discuss these stories continually use the word “situation.”
“Coming up…more on the Adrian Peterson situation.”
“The Carolina Panthers have de-activated Greg Hardy. More on the Greg Hardy situation coming up.”
“Disturbing new video released showing Ray Rice punching his fiancé and knocking her out. The latest on the Ray Rice situation next.”
Situation? These are situations? As sports fans we need the news sanitized like this? We can’t handle knowing the players we idolize are in reality violent criminals?
These three crimes are a learning moment not only for the NFL, but for sports media, because there is a growing gap between the fan bases of sports leagues and the consumers of sports media.
Where the NFL ran afoul, especially with Ray Rice, was it failed to address its fan base, which according to Scarborough Research is 55% male and 45% female. The NFL’s TV game viewing audience is around 33% female according to Nielsen data.
In comparison sports talk radio is dominated by male listening. Almost 80% of the audience is male. It’s programming provides little appeal for women. Within the radio industry the format is often referred to as “guy talk,” talk a little sports, talk about beer, talk about hot women. It’s an audio Man Cave.
As you can see, there’s a disparity between the fan base of the NFL and the consumers of sports media – radio, television or digital.
Sports teams have changed to be more inclusive and appealing to women, because the leagues need women for revenue growth. Yet sports media continues to cater to an overwhelmingly male audience.
The NFL, with these recent examples of brutal player behavior, is also guilty. While they have successfully marketed to women and made them fans of the product they sell each Sunday, when called upon to act in the correct and responsible way, the league fails to defend the same women it needs for sustained revenue growth.
The disgusting behavior by these players is a learning moment.
- Sports media must recognize the consumer market for the teams they cover has changed. They must embrace and include women who are now big consumers of sports. There is a huge upside with advertisers by programming to a larger audience which is inclusive of both men and women. This is especially true for sports talk radio.
- Sports media must confront stories such as these and not hide behind words like “situation.” Call the actions what they are “crimes against women and children.”
It’s never a crime when you defend those that cannot defend themselves.