NFL Reality: the biggest hit of the fall TV season

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THE WOODLANDS, Tex. — When people ask me if I watch reality TV, I say, “Constantly. I watch the NFL.”

Life experience doesn’t get more real than video from inside an elevator showing a star running back, Ray Rice knocking out a woman with one punch.

It doesn’t get more real than a 9-1-1 call and play-by-play of sack king Greg Hardy dragging a screaming woman by her hair from room to room.

What could be more real than Wes Welker demonstrating adderol addiction?  You’d have to expect the NFL would be a showcase for the Abused Prescription Drug of the Day.  Timely performance by Wes — better ratings than another recent bite of NFL Reality:  Orlando Scandrick running afoul of yesterday’s favored party drug, mollies.

Let’s hope it doesn’t get more real than the MVP of two years ago, Adrian Peterson, pruning the branch of a tree to deliver what he calls “a whooping” to his 4-year-old son.

That was followed a few days later by a news report of an accusation of Peterson abusing another of his sons in June of 2013.  “No one can understand the hurt I feel for my son and the harm I caused him,” Peterson said of that incident. 

The famed running back of the Minnesota Vikings, spends his off-season 30 miles north of Houston in a bucolic suburb that wraps around piney woods.  It was here in his sprawling home that, according to police reports, in May of this year he administered a severe sort of corporal punishment to one of his six children visiting him.

When his former wife came to pick up the kids, she could see – and he had told her in advance – that one of them was bruised and scraped in many areas of the body:  hands, ankles, buttocks, back, scrotum.

Daddy had sent a tweet regretting he “got him in nuts.”

Answering charges of “reckless or negligent endangerment to a child,” Peterson was at the Montgomery County court house last week.  Reporters described him as not thinking he had done anything wrong except getting “a little carried away” with the type of discipline “done to me.” He claimed he wasn’t worried “because I know my intent.”

This is already being described by legal analysts as the East Texas defense.  It’s expected to be employed by Peterson’s attorney Rusty Hardin, who’s credited with keeping a drug-tainted Roger Clemens out of jail.

Having lived a few years in East Texas, I can tell you it is indeed a different culture, to use the term as loosely as possible.  This is a place where parents spare the rod and cut off a small branch, pluck the leaves and carve a flexible “switch” for some tough love.

If you want the iconic image of East Texas punishment, recall James Byrd, Jr., being dragged, gasping for his last breaths, through a street in Jasper, about a hundred miles from here. 

In what’s called The Worst Week in NFL History, we see the theme of NFL Reality changing from violence on the field to violence off it.  Perhaps it’s not so easy to separate the two.  Boys are brought up to hit back, to hit hard, especially at football practice.

When they’re struck by a woman – as Janay Palmer – soon to be Rice – so feebly struck Ray – they may fail to make the switch in protocol.  Yes, it’s inexcusable (by Ray’s own admission), but his knockout punch was not entirely a bolt out of the blue.

So Ray Rice is a monster.  As is, apparently, Hardy, Carolina Panther convicted in July of assaulting and threatening to kill his ex-girlfriend.  She describes him with his hands around her throat.

“He looked me in my eyes and he told me he was going to kill me.  I was so scared I wanted to die.  When he loosened his grip slightly, I said, ‘Just do it.  Kill me.’”

After the verdict against him, Hardy was allowed to participate in the opening game of the season, with his case on appeal.  Who knows how long the appeal process can continue?  As a general rule, the more horrid the crime, the lengthier the appeal.

Panthers owner Jerry Richardson has been hiding behind the Due Process banner.  Last week he spoke at a banquet where he received the “Echo Award Against Indifference.” He broke into sobs as he discussed domestic violence.  Such a sensitive subject for him.

Eventually the irony and hypocrisy were too much for Richardson.  Hardy was deactivated for Sunday’s game against Detroit.  The Panthers, underdogs at home without Hardy, beat Detroit, which may go to show you don’t need thugs to win football games.

Another irony:  Rihanna, a voice against domestic violence, being a victim herself, was going to sing prior to the debut of Thursday Night Football on CBS.  But after being touted throughout the day, her appearance was abruptly canceled in favor of a “more subdued” tone.  Far be it for the NFL to stand emphatically against domestic violence.

For whatever reasons, a ho-hum matchup of teams that were 8-8 last year – Baltimore and Pittsburgh — was a ratings bonanza.  It drew more than 20 million televiewers.

On Sunday the Vikings deactivated Peterson against New England.  But they reinstated him for the next game. The distinction can be made that unlike Hardy, Peterson has not been convicted. And with an East Texas jury in a very conservative (even by Texas standards) county that likes Christian punishment, Peterson may beat the rap(s).

While Minnesota waffled on child abuse, there were echoes of indifference from the San Francisco 49ers.  Starting defensive end Ray McDonald has been indicted for domestic violence but continues to play in deference to “the legal process.”

Yes, the NFL, starting at the top with Roger Goodell, seizes on the failures of police, DA’s or judges to let crimes against women slide.  Even though the players union allows its members to be punished without a court ruling.

During Goodell’s eight years as commissioner, 56 NFL players have been arrested on domestic violence charges.  With his reluctance to punish Rice, Hardy and others, Goodell comes off as soft on crime against women, provoking some activists to call for his removal from office.

We will see more planes flying over stadiums with “Goodell Must Go” banners trailing.

There may be a few advertisements dropped.  After Peterson’s double debacle, Radisson Hotels withdrew its sponsorship from the Vikings.

But barring a widespread boycott by sponsors – and there’s little sign of that as yet —  Goodell remains in office.  Not that the NFL owners can entirely take for granted the 33% of its viewing audience that are women.

Future generations may not be as forgiving as Janay Rice.  A Texas band, The Dixie Chicks, sing of a wife-beater, Earl, who meets revenge: murdered by his victim with assistance from her long-time female friend.  It’s the favorite song of my teenage granddaughter.

Some television analysts say all this domestic violence will raise the NFL’s “Q rating” and lead to ever more viewership and advertising dollars.  Rob Rassman of the New York Daily News:  “In a perverse, very perverse sense, it has actually expanded the NFL’s audience.”

Face it:  America loves reality TV.  And who does it better than the NFL and all its networks and media support groups?

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