After a season of scandal, will viewers hold NFL more accountable?

From domestic violence to deflated footballs, this NFL season has been rife with scandal, and yet its viewership has remained loyal. Ahead of Sunday’s Super Bowl, Hari Sreenivasan takes stock of the year in pro-football with Kevin Blackistone of ESPN and Christine Brennan of USA Today.

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    I don't think it will have any impact on the integrity of the game beyond this one. In fact, I think it worked out to be a somewhat of a nice carpet ride for the NFL to keep the conversation going about this particular Super Bowl matchup, and gave one team a black hat and the other team a white hat.

    It's amazing that we get to the end of the season talking about something as ridiculous as deflated and inflated footballs, when we began the season talking about very serious issues affecting the league, such as domestic violence and child abuse.


    Christine, in your column today, you were writing that, when you walk through the streets of Phoenix, it looks like the Olympics. There's not really any mentions or any signs that people are thinking about domestic violence or child abuse?


    Absolutely, Hari.

    And I think the TV ratings may well be higher than they have ever been before, because, as we know, controversy will bring more people to their television sets to see what this is about, if that's possible, that there could be more people watching the Super Bowl.

    I do say I agree with Kevin. It is ridiculous, but it's been a distraction and it's kept the NFL in the news in that week between the conference championship games and the Super Bowl itself.

    But that — walking around Phoenix, being in this town, it struck me that, in this year of Ray Rice, September 8, 2014, the video that changed everything, our perceptions of the country about domestic violence, our culture, as well as the NFL's feelings about it and having to deal with all these issues, it's almost nonexistent.

    Fans come, and this is America, and this is our football. And they want it. And, yes, talk about domestic violence, they're kind of saying, at least you figure they're saying, but don't bother me with it on Sunday, every Sunday.

    And so, if there's any doubt that the NFL is going to thrive and survive no matter what, there should be no doubts based on what you see on the streets in Phoenix.


    So, Kevin, is this because — is this a reflection of our collective perhaps attention span or the fans of football over it and don't want it on Sundays, as Christine said, or is it — does it also have to do with the way that the commissioner handled it?


    Well, part of it, I think, is the way that the commission — the commissioner handled it, because so much of the focus became how Roger Goodell was bungling these very important issues as they affected some star players in the league.

    I think the other part of it, though, is that, you know, football has long tried to divorce itself from the rest of society. It wasn't until a couple of years ago that the Super Bowl even allowed a — quote, unquote — "political ad" to be played during the Super Bowl. And that was the Tim Tebow commercial that was a pro-life commercial.

    And so, as we know, coming up in this Super Bowl, we're going to have the "No More" anti-domestic violence public service announcement played. So, it will be there, but, certainly, come the time of the kickoff and for much of the rest of the day leading up to that, it's not going to be part of the conversation.


    Christine, you have been one to have the people that have not called for a resignation of Roger Goodell. How do you rate his handling of this now?


    It has not been entirely good, and clearly mistakes were made, huge mistakes.

    This was bungled from the start, the issue of Ray Rice, how to handle him. But I also think it's a reflection of our society and all of us coming to terms with domestic violence and what it looks like, which is why I believe the video of September 8 is such a watershed moment, not just for the NFL, but for all of us, in terms of seeing what it looks like.

    And, unfortunately, that adjective "domestic" is such a terrible word before the word violence. It softens the word, domestic violence. If there were another name for it, I think it would be better. But I will say this. And I think Roger Goodell had a bit of a more humble tone today, although he had a few moments and — that I think were unfortunate.

    But, in general, the NFL is doing more than any other pro sports league on this issue, and certainly any other international league, for that matter, on this issue or sport.

    So, maybe that's faint praise, because a lot of people are doing almost nothing. But do I think it's important to note the National Football League has taken some big steps. It was ugly getting to this result, but they're there now. And I think we're going to hold them accountable moving forward.


    Kevin, the other big story this year was about concussions and maybe the ripple effect that it had on especially another generation of people saying, maybe I don't want my young child playing football, or — I don't know if that necessarily correlates with their interest in watching the Super Bowl, but is there kind of an existential crisis for football because of how — where people are now about the dangers?



    If you remember the investigations into concussions done by PBS, "Frontline," the NFL, and for a short while ESPN as a partner, "League of Denial," one of the things that was revealed there was the idea that if 10 percent of mothers, I think the quote was, had their sons not play football coming up, that the National Football League would no longer have a labor pool to have a league.

    And so this concussions report that Roger Goodell issued at the press conference also comes right on the heels of a new study from Boston University showing that former NFL football players who played little league football suffered concussion-related problems, health-related problems at a far higher rate than did football players who played later.

    So this is something that the league is certainly going to have to deal with going forward and it's certainly a danger to the success and survivability of the league.


    Kevin and Christine, before I let you go, one-word answer, who do you think's going to win?

    And thanks for joining us.




    Well, and I will go with Seattle.

    If there's a dynasty in football, this may be the new one.



    All right, Kevin Blackistone of ESPN, Christine Brennan of USA Today, thanks so much.


    Thank you.


    Thank you.