Hitting the NFL Where it Hurts (And From Where They Can’t Hit Back)
It’s not wise to critique the NFL. Whether you’re a professional football player or member of the sports media, the NFL punishes those they deem a threat, either directly or indirectly.
Take NFL quarterback Drew Brees, who made comments today denouncing the NFL for a lack of transparency in determining punishments. Will the NFL fine him? Possibly – they’ve fined other players for less – but probably not. After all, they have bigger things to worry about.
The criticism of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has been slowly building to a crescendo over the past couple weeks. Since ruling in July that Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice would receive a two game suspension for knocking out his then fiancee, now wife, in a casino elevator in New Jersy, new video evidence of the assault has resulted in outrage over the inadequacy of the suspension. Goodell, for his part, has insisted that he never saw the video before handing down punishment, angering people even more. How does the NFL commissioner, who employs former policemen and FBI agents, not get a hold of that tape?
See, that’s the thing. It looks like he did.
Since the reports surfaced claiming that the NFL main office in New York was given the tape, various members of the media have called for Goodell’s resignation and accused him of a coverup. ESPN writer Jason Whitlock was one of the first, along with ESPN talking head Keith Olbermann. There had to be tension behind closed doors in Bristol – ESPN pays the NFL over $15 billion for the rights to Monday Night Football. Then ESPN analyst and former NFL player Tedy Bruschi went off, calling for Goodell to step down on NFL Live. But he would be spared too.
Enter ESPN Grantland Editor in Chief Bill Simmons. If straw really broke the camels back, consider Bill Simmons a wrecking ball. He filleted Goodell on his podcast Tuesday, calling him a liar and insisting he was “insulted” by Goodell’s press conference on Friday. He even dared ESPN to punish him for his comments. Unsurprisingly, ESPN suspended Simmons for three weeks on Wednesday.
But though the Fight Against Goodell lost one prominent voice Wednesday, it gained another. South Park aired the first episode of its new season Wednesday night, critiquing the NFL in a multitude of ways. Some highlights include:
- Using actual audio from Goodell’s press conference Friday to underline how pathetic his excuses really are
- Depicting Jerry Jones’ hooker scandal
- Revealing that Goodell is actually a malfunctioning robot created by NFL owners
- Referencing the Ray Rice domestic abuse scandal
While the episode did a great job satirizing all these NFL headlines, the episode mainly focused on a topic that has taken a backseat over the past several months: the inherent racism in the team name “Washington Redsk*ns.” The show attacked Washington’s owner, Dan Snyder, in particular, portraying him as stubborn, insensitive and ruthless. One of South Park’s protagonists, Eric Cartman, explains to Dan Snyder that, “We have total respect for you. When we named our team Washington Redsk*ns, it was out of deep appreciation for your team, and your people.” Cartman’s shit-eating grin at the end of the explanation highlights how little he thinks of Snyder, and in turn, satirizes how little Snyder must think of Native Americans who ask that he change the racist team name.
The episode’s airing on Wednesday is doubly impactful because the New York Giants play at Washington on Thursday Night Football, when the episode will still be fresh in everyone’s mind. Couple that with the fact that CBS’ color commentator, Phil Simms, has said numerous times that he’ll avoid saying the name “Redsk*ns,” and will instead refer to the team as “Washington.”
As if this isn’t already more scrutiny than Snyder wants, it looks like it’ll only intensify over the next couple weeks. The Daily Show with John Stewart is reportedly scheduled to air an episode in the next several days – possibly even Thursday night – that taped several weeks ago, in which Stewart invited fans of the Redsk*ns and Native Americans for a debate showdown.
But unlike with quarterback Drew Brees or ESPN do-all pocketknife Bill Simmons, the NFL has no recourse for applying pressure to Comedy Central’s Daily Show or South Park. While players and sports networks are beholden to the NFL, Comedy Central has no football allegiances. Its writers and talking heads can express themselves freely. And maybe that’s what it’ll take to bring about change in the NFL main office and in Washington. Maybe.