National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell has reportedly fast tracked his investigation of the Brett Favre scandal and a decision is expected by early November on a possible suspension for the future Hall of Fame Minnesota Vikings quarterback.
On the surface, the Brett Favre scandal might be seen ultimately as much ado about nothing. A married football player, who has had a history of substance abuse and extramarital affairs (according to his wife), is caught texting a sexy sideline reporter, who is probably best known for posing nude in Playboy and Maxim Magazines.
Favre is not accused of direct sexual assault of any type, and by all accounts his repeated invitations to the reporter to join him at his hotel were never accepted. Nothing, actually, happened in the physical sense of the word. While embarrassing for the player and for his team and the league, there is no criminal element to this and for a league that has a man who killed dogs for sport playing quarterback for one of its biggest franchises, it hardly seems to be that big of a deal.
And yet, Favre very well might be suspended. Do not dismiss the politics and financial considerations that will go into this.
The National Football League is the most popular sports league in the history of the country. Its television ratings reach levels that even ten years ago nobody would have thought popular. Its sport is perfectly packaged for television, and is played primarily during a time of year when people are returning indoors.
The explosion of fantasy leagues and, yes, gambling, has only added to its appeal. And in these difficult economic times, an NFL game provides those watching at home with a free and comforting three hour block of entertainment. While the nation’s number two sport, Major League Baseball, is still very popular, only the biggest baseball games can beat out regular season NFL games in the television ratings game.
But, as all good business people always are, Roger Goodell is probably quite paranoid right now and worried. There is, of course, nowhere to go now but down with his league. And as most business people know, if you are not growing your business, you are probably shrinking.
At this point, it is difficult for the NFL to grow anymore than it already has among men. At the risk of generalization, if a grown man in this country is not already a fan of the NFL, he probably never will be. The NFL, too, has met with indifference in Europe, even though it continues to try to generate interest there with regular season games held there each year. And even if popularity of American football starts to grow in Europe, there seems to be a ceiling on the growth there as the logistics of actually moving an NFL franchise there seem daunting to say the least.
The segment of the populace that the NFL has been aggressively targeting over the past several years is women. This year , the league opened up a special website selling NFL themed products for women. And in October, NFL teams have been wearing pink on their chinstraps, gloves and shoes to signify support and awareness for National Breast Cancer Awareness month.
Women already are a significant portion the NFL fan base; one study said about 44% of NFL fans are women. But deepening the relationship between the league and women is vitally important to the NFL, both to get women to the television sets more frequently as well as, let’s face it, make it easier for husbands to ask for that coveted “free pass” from their wives to go watch the game.
In the middle of all of this, Brett Favre, one of the most recognizable NFL figures, and probably one of the most attractive players to women, stands accused with what appears to be pretty strong (though still alleged) evidence that he betrayed his wife and sent graphic and vulgar pictures of penis to a sideline reporter not much older than Favre’s daughter. Right thinking men everywhere are offended by this as well, but they are not likely to stop watching NFL football. As the league works hard to bring women into the fold, this is the last thing it wants.
This, frankly, is exactly the sort of thing that the NFL surely wants to avoid as it promotes a family and women friendly image far removed from the ‘man’s game’ image the sport had through most of its history.
The suspension given to Pittsburgh Steelers’ quarterback Ben Roethlisberger earlier this year is instructive. In fairness, what Roethlisberger was accused of doing was far more serious than what Favre is accused of. And, if the allegations are proven true, this is Favre’s first offense, whereas Roethlisberger had a history of misconduct. Still, Roethlisberger was never even tried in a court of law for his alleged indiscretions as there was not enough evidence and the NFL still suspended him.
So while surely Roger Goodell will be careful to suspend Brett Favre only if he has the required evidence, do not at all discount the likely severity of the punishment if the NFL commissioner believes that he has the smoking gun he needs to suspend the quarterback.