By Christy Strawser
DETROIT (CBS Detroit) The NFL has made no secret it’s courting women, from marketing sexy jerseys to creating family-friendly events and, some would say, creating a “softer” game with stronger rules about play both on and off the field.
Get caught with pot or snared in a DUI and chances are you’re off the field for awhile. Bully a teammate and it becomes a national sensation. Play the way Ndamukong Suh does and cough up hundreds of thousands of dollars for fines. And, watch your language.
That’s how women like their football, the thinking goes, and women are an important addition to a league focused on continual expansion. So, how to explain Ray Rice?
Rice was suspended two games Thursday after video surfaced earlier this year of him dragging his unconscious female companion Janay Palmer off a hotel elevator after a reported altercation. Many believe he knocked his fiancee out cold.
The couple later hosted a press conference where Palmer apologized for her role in the incident. Rice gave a rambling speech to the media with this unfortunate nugget: “I failed miserably, but I wouldn’t call myself a failure because failure is not getting knocked down. It’s not getting up.”
The two quickly married.
The wait’s been on since then to find out how the NFL would react. The social media reaction Thursday to what appeared to be a paltry penalty was swift, and harsh.
Some urged a boycott of the pink jerseys the league markets to women — which seems to hit close to home. According to the NFL, sales of women’s apparel have spiked 76 percent in the last three years.
Others urged an overall boycott or just demanded stronger justice.
Sports pundits also took the news badly, with many blaming the NFL for what appears to be leniency about domestic violence coupled with intolerance for minor offenses of other stripes.
For Sports Illustrated, Chris Burke wrote: “Message received … loud and clear.
“When it comes to running afoul of the law and NFL rules, ’tis worse – far worse – in the league’s eyes to … smoke some marijuana than it is to, say, allegedly knock your fiancée out cold and then drag her unconscious body from a casino elevator.”
ESPN’s Jane McManus wrote: “Two games? Commissioner Roger Goodell has issued longer suspensions for pot smoking, taking Adderall, DUI, illegal tattoos, dog-fighting and eating a protein bar that you thought [was] on the NFL approved list.”
Still, Terry Foster, co-host of the Valenti & Foster show on 97.1 The Ticket in Detroit, thinks women won’t flock away from away from the sport that has made a concerted effort to grow its female fan base.
“Absolutely not, with women who are NFL fans the shield is so powerful that we are so under its hex and spell, there will be women at the games, and they will be rooting for their favorite teams.
“And they’ll be rooting for Ray Rice.”
According to Ad Age, 50.4 million women tuned into the latest Super Bowl, compared to the 24.5 million who watched the Oscars, and the 23.8 million who watched the Emmys.
“The Super Bowl’s female audience has more than doubled from only five years ago, and the last three Super Bowl broadcasts have set records for being the most-watched shows by female viewers. The previous record was held by the 1994 Winter Olympics figure-skating showdown between Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding,” Ad Age’s Michael McCarthy wrote, adding:
“The game has become as much entertainment and soap opera as sport.”
Business Week reported the NFL includes 185 million American fans — nearly 60 percent of the population. Peter O’Reilly, the league’s vice president for fan strategy and marketing, said about 45 percent of those fans are women. In 2002, the number was 14 percent.
Only time will tell how they react to the latest news.
Rice released a statement taking responsibility and saying the experience made him a better person.
“My goal is to earn back the trust of the people, especially the children, I let down because of this incident,” Rice said,per ESPN. “I am a role model and I take that responsibility seriously. My actions going forward will show that.”
Commissioner Roger Goodell, who met with Rice and his wife, says the assault warranted suspension.
“We simply cannot tolerate conduct that endangers others. This is particularly true with respect to domestic violence and other forms of violence against women,” Goodell wrote in a letter to Rice.