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Judging by its reaction to the Ray Rice situation—the NFL cares deeply about the issue of domestic violence. The Ravens cut Rice immediately after “seeing” the despicable event in the elevator. (Because they couldn’t possible imagine how a young woman gets knocked out cold?) But, hey—they did the right thing. They gave Rice his walking papers. Numerous owners, along with Roger Goodell, have expressed indignation at Rice’s actions, showing exactly how much they are concerned with the issue of domestic violence.
Yesterday morning I listed to a journalist from the New York Times call all of this concern and moral indignation into question. He argued that the commissioner and owners are less concerned with domestic violence and more concerned with protecting the NFL shield—protecting the “brand.” Goodell, who initially gave Rice a 2 game suspension, back pedaled when people complained. “We got it wrong,” Goodell claimed as he proposed a tougher approach to domestic violence. The possibility that the NFL would get bad press, and lose money, apparently forced those in power to rethink their moral standards. This is the virtue of capitalism, right? When we all act in self interest inevitably society will benefit. The NFL’s concern for making money means it has to take a tough stand against domestic violence, otherwise we won’t watch.
The problem with the cult of “brand” is that it is an abstraction. What is the “shield”? What is the NFL? Is the NFL more real than a young woman getting pummeled by her football fiance? Are corporations and institutions and the “brand” they project, more real, and thus more of a moral concern, than the real people who work for them? The problem with “brand” is that it constantly abstracts the humanity of real people, turning them into cogs that are all dispensable, they are all replaceable, and every one of them can (and inevitablly will?) be sacrificed for the greater good.
The right thing for Roger Goodell—or anyone else associated with the NFL—to do? Say, “Forget football. Forget the NFL. A young woman was beaten by her fiance, and women are abused like this every day.” But that wouldn’t be profitable; that wouldn’t be economically prudent. After all, we need capitalism and cult of brand to make the world a better place.