The NFL Players Association has filed an appeal of the indefinite suspension of Ray Rice amid reports that a number of prominent NFL sponsors have joined the growing chorus of critics questioning the league’s handling of player-inflicted violence.
In Minnesota as well, the Vikings placed Adrian Peterson on the Exempt/Commissioner’s Permission list Wednesday morning, which means the player is not allowed to play in games or practice until his legal proceedings have been resolved.
“We embrace our role - and the responsibilities that go with it - as a leader in the community, as a business partner and as an organization that can build bridges with our fans and positively impact this great region,” a statement from the Vikings read. “While we were trying to make a balanced decision yesterday, after further reflection we have concluded that this resolution is best for the Vikings and for Adrian.”
Sponsors for both players have also begun break away.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell levied the punishment on Rice last week when new footage became public showing the former running back knocking his then-fiancee Janay Palmer unconscious in an Atlantic City hotel elevator this February. The NFLPA is filing the appeal to protect the “due process rights of all NFL players.” They have asked that a neutral and jointly selected arbitrator take up the case.
Rice was initially suspended for just two games for his incident with his now-wife. “Under governing labor law, an employee cannot be punished twice for the same action when all of the relevant facts were available to the employer at the time of the first punishment,” the NFLPA said in a statement.
The NFL’s handling of the Rice incident is currently being investigated by former FBI director Robert Mueller. Goodell has denied seeing the footage of Rice punching his current wife until last week. However, an Associated Press report claims that an unnamed female NFL official did receive and view the tape in April. Goodell said in 2012, “Ignorance is not an excuse,” when punishing New Orleans Saints players for paying out “bounties” for vicious defense plays. His words are coming back to haunt him in some circles.
Meanwhile, McDonald’s, Anheuser-Busch and Campbell Soup Company were the latest major brand names to release statements condemning domestic violence and questioning the NFL’s track record to date.
“As a family brand, we’ve communicated our concerns to the league, and we expect it to take strong and necessary actions to address these issues,” read a McDonald’s official release.
“We are not yet satisfied with the league’s handling of behaviors that so clearly go against our own company culture and moral code. We have shared our concerns and expectations with the league,” spokespeople for Anheuser-Busch said on Tuesday.“Domestic violence is abhorrent. We are watching developments closely and look forward to the findings of the independent investigation underway,” Campbell’s said in a statement of their own.
None of these businesses went so far as to pull their advertising from NFL games, but the message to the league is clear: Clean up this mess, and fast.
Previously, the Radisson hotel chain suspended its sponsorship of the Minnesota Vikings, following revelations of alleged child abuse by star running back Adrian Peterson. Wheaties, Nike and Castrol have also cut ties with Peterson. Several companies have already severed their relationship with Rice, who was terminated by the Baltimore Ravens, ending his six-year run with that team, and his image has been removed from the iconic “Madden 15” football video game.
So far, the NFL has responded to Anheuser-Busch: “We understand. We are taking action and there will be much more to come.” Anheuser-Busch has a six-year advertising deal with the NFL which is reportedly worth $1.2 billion.
Goodell had instituted harsher penalties for domestic violence and sexual assault shortly before the new Rice video made national headlines. In the days since, he has made a number of personnel moves, including elevating current Vice President of Community Affairs and Philanthropy Anna Issacson to serve as the NFL’s vice president of social responsibility, but the damage to the commissioner and the NFL’s reputation has been severe.
CoverGirl is also dealing with criticisms from the public for its role as the “official beauty partner” of the NFL. The cosmetics brand collaborated with the league to launch “official team makeup looks.” A doctored version of one of their ads, which shows the CoverGirl model representing the Baltimore Ravens with a black eye, has become popular online as a message against domestic violence. The image has been circulated on Twitter accompanied by the hashtag, “#GoodellMustGo.”
Still, only the league’s 32 owners have the power to remove Goodell from his position, and since his tenure has been arguably the most profitable in the NFL’s history, there is reportedly reticence to do that. However, if this deluge of sponsor anxiety continues it could hurt owners where it matters most – in their wallets.