Sunday, December 5, 2010

Roger Goodell Wants Me

It's a well-acknowledged fact that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell wants to take over the world.

Professional football is the most popular, profitable sport in the country, but ol' Rog wants to make it more popular. And profitable. That's what playing a game a year in London is about--he wants to build up a trans-Atlantic fanbase. Someday, despite the wild impracticality of it, he wants a franchise over there. The fact that the Bills play some of their home games in Toronto helps build up Canadian enthusiasm for American football. Goodell wants the NFL in Europe; he wants in Mexico; he wants to turn people of all nations and creeds into NFL fans and to turn small percentages of their money into his money.

Again, this is all openly acknowledged and much-discussed in the sports media. What puzzles me is that I don't see mentions of how the NFL is even more aggressively trying to win over a particular segment of Americans: women.

It makes sense to try to turn more women into football fans. We have eyeballs for watching and money for spending. Plus, we're already here--no need to move an entire team across an ocean for us!

This is why keeps running those commercials for lady-style football jerseys. This is why he punished Ben Roethlisberger for sexual assault even when the legal system didn't. Most of all, this is why the NFL devotes a month to breast cancer awareness. Pure altruism? Of course not. While money and awareness gets raised for a good cause (and I'm not trying to malign that), women get drawn in by the NFL's dedication to a cause that's important to them, and little girls get drawn in by the pretty pink shoes and gloves (might as well start working on new fans early, right?).

I've been asked if I think the new emphasis on concussion safety is another appeal to women, and I think the answer is yes and no. The new concussion policies are about a lot of things, the first and foremost of which is probably heading off a class-action lawsuit. Someday ex-players who suffer from head-trauma-induced health problems are going to want to sue the NFL, and the league needs to start proving they're being as responsible as possible, in line with recent medical findings. There are other reasons, too: they want to mitigate hostility to the 18-game season. They want to keep people from feeling guilty about watching a sport that can permanently handicap its players. I think the reason that most applies to women is that the league does not want parents to keep their children from playing football. If young athletes get steered away from football (and towards basketball, baseball, or God forbid, soccer) because their mothers fear for their long-term health, that will eventually damage the sport.

I'm not criticizing Roger Goodell and the NFL for trying to win over women. It's smart. I just don't know why it doesn't get more attention when it's so obvious.

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