Who is really at fault?

This was initially written as an essay but I have decided to post it anyways because I think it helps people understand the model the media is meant to follow and it places some long overdue blame on Nike for failing to act.

Media outlets have enormous power in American society. They have the ability to influence the thinking of a democratic people and change its perspective on any given topic. The media is meant to set the public’s agenda as well as transmit values. Each medium, ranging from newspapers to social media, is responsible for filling this role for news consumers. A recent situation involving the NFL and domestic violence presented the perfect opportunity for journalism to showcase its abilities. It could have pressed for new values and readjusted the American agenda to enact a leadership change in the NFL while engaging its readership about a major social issue in child abuse. The mishandling of a child abuse scandal involving NFL superstar Adrian Peterson brought reporters, publishers and bloggers alike up to bat. It would have been so easy for them to get it right but they struck out. The media should have promoted the idea that a major league sponsor Nike pull its sponsorship of the NFL for the league’s poor handling of domestic violence discipline and then rebuked Nike when it failed to properly sever ties.

First off, the relationship between these two mega corporations holds the potential to be a make or break one in the fate of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. Goodell received intense pressure to step down for his leniency with Peterson but retained his position. The reason that Nike represents the perfect company to war with the NFL is two-fold. To start, it is the premier, multinational sports apparel company and holds a lot of sway in the general sporting community. The second aspect is Nike is the provider and sponsor of every NFL jersey made and worn by players and fans. In most news stories published about the scandal, Nike has been framed as neutral and taking the appropriate steps to react to the events of Peterson as they came to light.

Unfortunately, Nike did only what was predictable. On September 16, Nike suspended its endorsement contract with Adrian Peterson following his suspension from the NFL. ESPN first reported the news via Twitter[1] and Nike stated that the company “‘in no way condones child abuse or domestic violence of any kind and has shared [its] concerns with the NFL.’”[2] This was a simplistic step and did not take any guts for the company to distance itself from the messy situation claiming it made its displeasure clear to the league. Nike should have taken more progressive actions to send the NFL a powerful message. The largest sports apparel company in the world should have terminated its sponsorship of the league. The Globe and Mail reported Manish Tripathi, a professor at Emory University, went on record saying, “‘It’s such a no-risk thing [for corporations] to come out against domestic violence, waving their finger but not pulling any money.’”[3] Tripathi makes a compelling argument essentially undermining everything Nike had done. Looking closer, Nike’s motivation might have stemmed from somewhere else.

Now, Nike certainly took the proper precautions in suspending Peterson. Even after Peterson’s suspended, it is hard for Nike to completely disassociate itself from him. TMZ reported that Peterson, the day after being accused, emerged from his house decked out in Nike gear. [4] This was before Nike had officially suspended his endorsement but this still connected Nike to Peterson in consumers’ minds. So logically, it made sense in regard to Nike’s public image to leave Peterson in the dust. That still does not justify continuing to sponsor NFL however, the answer can be found in the numbers. According to The Wall Street Journal, when Nike took over as the official jersey provider for the league, the company it replaced, Reebok, lost an estimated $250 – $275 million in revenue.[5] Nike would likely lose that amount in cutting the NFL loose. It is unfortunate these are the correct economical steps because it allows Nike to be conceded. Yet, there should have been an upside because the media could have exploited Nike’s selfish nature to force the company to take further steps.

However, this is exactly where news outlets fell down on the job. Nike did not pressure the NFL enough, which is where the media should have picked up the slack. After missing the first chance to drive Roger Goodell out, Nike gave publications another opportunity. All they had to do was emphasize the self-centered actions Nike had taken while appearing as though it was disapproving of domestic violence when in reality it was only protecting itself. Yet, mass media dropped the ball a second time, failing to identify a pressure point that could have started a movement. The United States’ media missed fulfilling its niche in a socially responsible model of journalism. Instead, the media suffers some serious blame. While this does not absolve Roger Goodell or Nike from the mistakes they have made, it does continue the cycle of unfulfilled responsibilities. Goodell should have put a stop to all of this taking the appropriate approach in punishing Peterson. Once Goodell did not act, the duty shifted to Nike, who should have shamed the NFL and created an impact by yanking their financial support. When Nike missed the opportunity, the responsibility landed with the media to spark controversy and enact change. Yet the media did not frame its articles as needed and thus, the burden then fell to the usual news consumers. Thankfully, the American people picked up some of the slack utilizing social media as a method for spreading the message.

To elaborate, Twitter exploded with demands for Goodell’s resignation and featured calls for sponsors to take the lead. A tweet from @shall1432 on September 16 said, “We need more #NFLsponsors to stand up and challenge the #NFL on their stance with #DomesticViolence. #ChildAbuse.”[6] This is a clear call for NFL sponsors to quit taking the easy way out and find a way to use their leverage against the NFL in a beneficial way. Then a tweet from September 17 by @tedotte read, “The sad truth is that brands pulling sponsorship $$ will be the reason @nfl @nflcommish are forced to address issues.”[7] Another tweet from the following day by @RamfusBrock had some harsh words for sponsors, “Tell #NFLsponsors that until they drop the @NFL,they’re part of its #DomesticViolence problem! #GoodellMustGo.”[8] This perpetuates the idea that these sponsors need to be held accountable and now they are being linked to the problem of domestic violence.

In summation, the media, across all platforms, insufficiently served its most important role. It inadequately addressed the reactions to a child abuse investigation from Roger Goodell and Nike respectively. The facts were continually presented that Peterson had abused his son yet few in the media could seem to make an impactful statement; they just kept repeating the mantra that domestic violence was wrong and Peterson should be punished. The opportunity laid out in front of media outlets all over the nation and the majority disappointed in their coverage. There are only so many times where a social issue explodes into a nationwide drama where the media has the opportunity to shift the public’s attention in a way that makes a significant difference. They could have used the power they so knowingly wield to punish Goodell for his offenses and blatant disregard for basic civic rights. Instead the media missed their cue and still no one seems to have discovered that they blew a huge chance to solidify their spot in a true socially responsible journalistic system.
[1] The Associated Press. (2014, September 18). PepsiCo CEO voices concern about NFL, but gives support to Goodell. The Globe and Mail, Sports. Retrieved from http://www.theglobeandmail.com/sports/football/pepsico-ceo-voices-concern-about-nfl-but-gives-support-to-goodell/article20660513/
[2] Rovell, D. (2014, September 17). Nike suspends Adrian Peterson deal. Retrieved October 7, 2014, from ESPN.com website: http://espn.go.com/nfl/story/_/id/11542737/nike-suspends-adrian-peterson-endorsement-contract
[3] The Associated Press. (2014, September 18). PepsiCo CEO voices concern about NFL, but gives support to Goodell. The Globe and Mail, Sports. Retrieved from http://www.theglobeandmail.com/sports/football/pepsico-ceo-voices-concern-about-nfl-but-gives-support-to-goodell/article20660513/
[4] TMZ Staff. (2014, September 16). Adrian Peterson…hey Nike…we’re still cool, right? Retrieved October 7, 2014, from http://www.tmz.com/2014/09/16/adrian-peterson-nike-swoosh-sponsor/
[5] Kell, J. (2012, April 4). Nike show NFL gear. The Wall Street Journal, Business. Retrieved from http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303816504577321743295501220 [6] @shall1432. (2014, September 16). @shall1432: We need more #NFLsponsors to stand up and challenge the #NFL on their stance with #DomesticViolence. #ChildAbuse [Tweet]. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/shall1432/status/511993607596036097
[7] @tedotte. (n.d.). https://twitter.com/tedotte/status/512322842176667648 [Tweet]. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/tedotte/status/512322842176667648
[8] @RamfusBrock. (2014, September 18). @RamfusBrock: Tell #NFLsponsors that until they drop the @NFL,they’re part of its #DomesticViolence problem! #GoodellMustGo [Tweet]. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/ramfusbrock/status/512746280032800770


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