The New Orleans Saints embarrassed the National Football League, their city and their legacy by spearheading the pro football team's program of placing bounties on opposing players. The Saints have also presented the league with a jumbo public-relations headache.
The league has come down hard on the Saints, as it should have. By placing a barbaric threat on players with the intent of injuring them seriously enough to threaten their careers, the Saints' coaches showed a complete lack of sportsmanship.
True, the National Football League is no place for touchy-feely people. But what the Saints did goes beyond the pale. It offends fans who believe in the purity and wholesomeness of athletics.
Will it do any good, however? Will the league's tough disciplinary action mean that the NFL will curtail the rampant excessive violence? Probably not.
After all, violence is the NFL's primary selling point to the television networks, and then to the fans both in the stadiums and those watching at home. The game's popularity depends on players smacking one another around. For decades, football has promoted itself as the most violent sport around.
The NFL has a big image now. How can it maintain its standards of macho play while showing sensitivity to the publicity of head injuries that players have been suffering?
The NFL has received a tremendous amount of negative publicity because its players have incurred concussions and other serious injuries. The league wants its fans to stay glued because of the action — but the followers don't want to feel ghoulish by celebrating it when players get badly hurt.
Can the NFL send a message by coming down hard on the Saints?
The league has to figure out how to maintain its image, as a profoundly violent American sport. At the same time, the NFL must demonstrate to the fans and the media that it is aware of the extreme disgust that the spectators feel right now for the New Orleans Saints. It's a tough job.
Jon Friedman writes the Media Web column for MarketWatch.com. Click here to read his latest column. (Friedman is also the author of "Forget About Today: Bob Dylan's Genius for (Re)invention, Shunning the Naysayers and Creating a Personal Revolution," which Penguin will publish in August.)
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