You would think that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell wouldn't be sleeping very well right now. He had to start the season by suspending a star quarterback for four games after that player was accused of raping a woman for the second time in his career. That was followed by another star quarterback being accused of sending suggestive text messages and pictures of his penis to a co-worker. And now, the leading candidate for league MVP is a convicted dogfighter and animal killer who missed two seasons while sitting in federal prison.
But Commissioner Goodell is probably sleeping soundly--with a smile on his face--because this is the most popular season in NFL history. TV audiences are up--and we have seen the highest single-game ratings for Sunday night and Monday night games this year. Apparently, the worse the behavior of its players, the more popular the NFL becomes.
Ben Roethlisberger was given a standing ovation upon his return to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 6. Those highest TV ratings ever came in games involving Brett Favre. And Michael Vick is now the hottest player in the NFL following his six-touchdown peformance against Philadelphia on Monday night. Add to that, popular deodorant commercials featuring Ravens' linebacker Ray Lewis--who went to trial for being an accessory to murder--and the re-awarding of the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Award to the Texans' Brian Cushing--who tested positive for using performance enhancing drugs--and you begin to wonder what behavior is NOT acceptable to NFL fans.
Contrast that to baseball--which has seen its TV ratings drop off a cliff since the "steroid era" was exposed. The all-time home run leader is a pariah, who has to buy his own tickets to his old team's World Series games. The single-season home run champion can't get 25% of the votes necessary for induction into the Hall of Fame. The New York Mets suspended--then released--Francisco Rodriguez after he beat up his girlfriend's father in the team's clubhouse last summer. Perhaps Fox should have promoted the Giants' Tim Lincecum's citation for marijuana possession or the Rangers' Josh Hamilton's former life as a crack addict to bring in more of the "bad boys" audience currently boosting the NFL ratings. And remember how the NBA slipped from national prominence after Michael Jordan retired (the second time) because people perceived it as "too thug".
Has anyone ever seen Roger Goodell and Vince McMahon in the same place at the same time? Perhaps they are one and the same--since the NFL is morphing into the WWE more every week. It's just a matter of time before players are given microphones to address the crowd before games--playing out their "story lines" just like the wrestlers on Monday Night Raw. Imagine the ratings the night Mike "The Dog Killa" Vick taunts the "Dawg Pound" fans in Cleveland. And why not let Brad Childress, Brett Favre and Randy Moss call each other out on the Jumbotron--rather than through the media in post-game interviews? America just can't get enough that stuff.