You know things are not going well for the NFL when the two words you hear most often during the pre- and post-game shows are not "completed pass," but "due process." And what has become painfully clear over the last week is that the network-employed NFL talking heads are spectacularly unprepared to deal with issues like spousal and child abuse. Which shouldn't really be a surprise, since so many of them struggle just to have an intelligent conversation about football.
Abuse of women? Child abuse? These issues are so big that it really makes you wonder whether predictions in the past from the likes of Malcolm Gladwell - that football is on a slow road to its own destruction - have a chance of becoming reality. And that's before you even start talking about the long-term issues associated with brain injuries and other physical injuries that are leaving increasing numbers of players disabled (or close to it) and unable to lead normal lives after their retirement.
With respect to long-term impact and potential change, the most significant thing that's happened in the past few days may be the warning from Anheuser-Busch that was made public today:
We are disappointed and increasingly concerned by the recent incidents that have overshadowed this NFL season. 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.
We've heard over and over again since last week that one primary reason the owners would stick with Roger Goodell as Commissioner - even those who might privately question his handling of the Ray Rice matter in particular - is that he has done more than any other commissioner to expand the bottom line. But if that bottom line is threatened by a company currently dropping a cool billion into the league's coffers, that's bound to make some owners take notice. And it's also bound to make other companies more likely to make their views known.
It seems to me that Goodell is damaged goods from this point on, and would probably be doing the league a favor by voluntarily stepping down. Condoleezza Rice has been the name mentioned most often as a potential successor who might lead the league out of the morass, but at this point I'd be happy with anyone with a solid management pedigree who might be capable of looking at these issues in a different light - with a different approach.
And can someone explain to me what the Minnesota Vikings think they are doing? What happened between Sunday and Monday (aside from a horrific home loss) that changed their approach to the Adrian Peterson issue? If they believed in due process, why did they inactivate him for Sunday's game? And if they're truly committed to taking a moral stand, then why did they reinstate him on Monday? It just doesn't make sense.
And at the end of the day, I know that none of this is really going to threaten the NFL's popularity, judging by the numbers from the first two weeks of play. It hasn't stopped me from watching the games. But there's got to be a tipping point somewhere, and wherever that is, we've got to be pretty close to it.