Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise
Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise

Counterprogramming Football: What To Watch Today Instead Of The NFL

Illustration for article titled Counterprogramming Football: What To Watch Today Instead Of The NFL

Lost, perhaps, in all the discussion of the NFL's handling of domestic-violence cases is the question of just why in the hell the NFL is punishing its labor force under something called a "personal conduct policy" in the first place. Just what the hell's going on there?


Consider, for the sake of comparison, the case of Centerplate, the sports and entertainment catering company whose CEO, Desmond Hague, was caught on camera beating up a dog in a Vancouver elevator. Once he was identified in the video, Hague issued a full public apology, and it was announced that he'd be donating $100,000 to the Sade Foundation, which works for animal safety in Vancouver, and serving 1,000 hours of community service, in addition to receiving a written censure from Centerplate. This was not enough. Separate petitions called for Hague's ouster and demanded that stadiums with catering contracts with Centerplate sever those relationships. Centerplate is the second largest company in its field, and with growth on the line and the coup of having snagged the contract for San Francisco's new Levi's Stadium suddenly overshadowed, Hague and Centerplate ultimately felt that the negative PR was more than the company's reputation could bear, and Hague resigned.

While Centerplate did not, ultimately, lose any contracts in the period of indecision between the video becoming public and Hague's resignation, we can still probably chalk this one up to market pressure. Centerplate's brand image is threatened by negative PR; there is a possibly significant bottom-line consequence of that threat; therefore sensible business stewardship requires that Centerplate remove the source of the negative PR. This is a sort of democratic intersection between society's values and market dynamics. Comsumers vote with their wallets. Before consumers even got around to casting those ballots, Centerplate read the polls (if I may beat this metaphor into the ground) and rigged the election (hee!).

This might be the reason for a business to have something called a "personal conduct policy" attached to its standard policies and procedures, for legal protection when the business has to make disciplinary or employment decisions based upon non-work-related transgressions. Taco Bell can fire you for showing up late or peeing in the taco "meat," and it can also fire you for posting a video of abuse on your Facebook page if that video brings significant negative attention to Taco Bell, and an agreed-upon personal conduct policy provides legal cover. Taco Bell, after all, stands to lose business from people who are sufficiently angered by the video to boycott or otherwise cease doing business with Taco Bell. As if the sodium-soaked irradiated rubber pulp they stuff into their burritos isn't reason enough.

So, maybe that's why the NFL has a personal conduct policy? Well, no, that can't be it. The NFL, it turns out, is virtually immune to negative PR. Consumers have voted over and over again in the NFL's favor. They can't lose. When their players misbehave, ratings climb. When the league overreaches, ratings climb. When the NFL doles out indefensibly arbitrary and at-times disproportionate punishments for non-football transgressions, ratings climb. When the public is educated about the mental health perils of football, ratings climb. When the NFL is subjected to what Adam Schefter called the biggest black eye in league history, ratings climb. For all the talk among fans of disgust and frustration about player misbehavior or front-office fascism, virtually no one is turning away.


Which raises the question: If fan attention is not threatened by player personal conduct, why on Earth would the NFL want to have a personal conduct policy? All it can do, it would seem, is punish the league's stars for behavior that can't be credibly said to threaten "the shield." Consider: Overwhelmingly, violations of the NFL's drug policy are caught by the league's collectively bargained drug testing protocol, and players' subsequent punishments for violations are publicly reported by a league that would seem to have something to lose in the public perception of its players as drug users.

But wait! The league has very little to lose from such a perception. Public dissatisfaction is largely absorbed by a layers-deep and self-regenerating bullet shield of corporate sponsors, each of whom has only a passive influence over the league and its franchises, and are easily replaced.


The personal conduct policy makes sense only in one respect: as a tool of aggression against its labor force. By recruiting a broad cross-section of fans into the belief that the players are, by and large, criminals, the NFL creates a fan-base that is largely supportive of strict internal policing of player behavior, bolstering the NFL's consolidation of power in the commissioner's office and empowering owners to thicken the layer of authority between players and the money generated by their work and fame. Remember, there's a collective-bargaining cycle that repeats itself every few years and which represents an enormous and ongoing public relations battle between ownership and the NFLPA.

Disappointment about the NFL's handling of player personal conduct is natural in light of how uneven and arbitrary-seeming its use of punishment has been, but consider that responsibility for policing player behavior has been handed wholly to a commissioner with no legal background, an NFL lifer who began as an intern and rose through the league's public-relations and business operations. If the NFL seems shockingly incompetent at addressing itself to its labor force's non-football behavior, it's probably because they've nested that authority with a hack PR dimwit no more qualified to handle a personal conduct policy than any NFL player chosen at random.


But look at how the league was praised for seeming to expand its authority to punish players for instances of domestic violence! Overwhelmingly, the NFL has used public sentiment to expand the power of the commissioner's office at the expense of the workforce. Players, it turns out, are just another bullet shield between the NFL and negative PR.


In a league where players have long been denied guaranteed contracts, fans are already conditioned to interpret the persistent devaluing of labor as "organizational efficiency". And with the personal conduct policy, the NFL is training fans to think of the labor force as deeply in need of the paternal control of its franchise owners and the league's heavy-handed administrators, self-policing non-football conduct and tattling on its players to a public that increasingly thinks of them as entitled, overpaid, and criminally violent. Ratings, attendance, profits, and stadium contracts paint a clear picture of a business whose earnings are PR-proof. In the case of player misconduct, perhaps the NFL doth protest too much.

What I'm saying is, watch something else.

Other Sports

11:30 a.m. — GOL TV — Bundesliga Soccer: FC Köln vs. Mönchendgladbach

Mid-table Bundesliga action is still pretty good stuff.

1 p.m. — beIN Sports — La Liga Soccer: Cordoba vs. Sevilla

Sevilla should pound the shit out of Cordoba.

1:30 p.m. — WGN — Baseball: White Sox @ Rays

Soon enough the weather will turn cold and wet and there will be no more baseball and you will sit alone in a dark room and think of all the baseball you didn't watch when you had the chance.


2 p.m. — ESPN — NASCAR

Someone named Brad Keselowski apparently drove his car faster than whoever else was driving and now has a lead in something called The Chase. Tune in!


2 p.m. — TBS — Baseball: Tigers @ Royals

This is the tightest division race in baseball, with significant wild-card implications, as well. This is what you should be watching, sports fans.


3 p.m. — beIN Sports — La Liga Soccer: Levante vs. Barcelona

A classic matchup between the No. 1 team in La Liga and the, um, last-place team.


8 p.m. — ESPN — Baseball: Reds @ Cardinals

St. Louis remains within striking distance of first place in the National League, to the annoyance-bordering-on-despair of all non-Cardinals fans.


TV Reruns

1 p.m. — USA — NCIS

If this is your thing, you're in luck: this shit's on TV all goddamn day, until 11 p.m.


1 p.m. — BBC America — Top Gear

Dependable substitute for the 1 p.m. games.

2 p.m. — TVLand — The Cosby Show

The Sunday afternoon marathon will cover you all the way through much of tonight's national broadcast game.


3 p.m. — Audience Network — 24

Back-to-back episodes will not feature any Roger Goodell press conferences whatsoever.


3:30 p.m. — FXX — The Simpsons

The usual Sunday mini-marathon will cover you through the late-afternoon games.

4:15 p.m. — Comedy Central — South Park

Comedy Central is breaking out the South Park marathon today. It's on until 4 a.m.


5 p.m. — AMC — Breaking Bad

Another Sunday, another afternoon Breaking Bad marathon. Good lookin' out, AMC.

6 p.m. — Chiller — The X-Files

Maybe Mulder and Scully can investigate the supernatural force that keeps Roger Goodell in his job. Probably that weird green cloud from that one episode*.


*possibly all episodes


11:30 a.m. — FX — Twilight

Who am I kidding here? You're not watching this.

Noon — A&E — Gladiator

Ah ha! Instead of watching what Louisa Thomas called "our culture's great spectacle of violence, our version of the gladiatorial games of ancient Rome," watch Ridley Scott's enjoyably ridiculous cinematic depiction of the gladiatorial games of ancient Rome. This movie is extra fun if you pretend Russell Crowe is staring at his agent off-screen when he delivers the "I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next" line.


Noon — The CW — Star Trek: The Motion Picture

Ah, V'Ger. Inspiration for thousands, and maybe millions, of beejer jokes over the years.


12:45 p.m. — IFC — The Thin Red Line

I'm fairly convinced this is the best war movie ever made.

2 p.m. — AMC — The Shawshank Redemption

A fun thing to do will be to track how many times this movie is shown on Sundays this season. This is the second time in three weeks.


2 p.m. — FX — The Twilight Saga: New Moon

FX is really going for the heartsick pre-teen demographic with a Twilight Saga marathon today.


2 p.m. — TVGN — A League of Their Own

And this is the second showing of A League of Their Own in three weeks. Will it take the crown from The Shawshank Redemption?


2:10 p.m. — VH-1 — The Blues Brothers

Hey, way to go, VH-1. Terrific counterprogramming.

2:30 p.m. — The CW — Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

Your reward for sitting through The Motion Picture is immediately following it up with The Wrath of Khan and Ricardo Montalbán's prosthetic chest.


3 p.m. — Ovation — Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang

This is a significantly underrated movie, and both Robert Downey Jr. and (yes) Val Kilmer are terrific.


3 p.m. — LOGO TV — Airplane!

Sure, you've seen it 15 times already, but it's a solid fallback option.

4:30 p.m. — TCM — The Black Swan

Tyrone Power and Maureen O'Hara in a swashbuckling Technicolor film that has absolutely nothing to do with Natalie Portman flipping out at the ballet.


5 p.m. — FX — The Twilight Saga: Eclipse

My God, they just keep coming.

5 p.m. — LOGO TV — Troop Beverly Hills

I imagine my telling you that Shelley Long is adorable in this movie will not convince you to watch it. Ah well.


5:30 p.m. — BBC America — Stargate

Hilariously, James Spader was intrigued by the Stargate script because it was "just awful." You do you, James Spader.


5:30 p.m. — Esquire Network — The Fifth Element

Chris Tucker's performance in this movie was largely panned. Which is ridiculous! Ruby Rhod is a hilarious character, damn it.


6:30 p.m. — SYFY — Interview With the Vampire

Unbelievably, there are worse things than this movie. Like, for example, the NFL.


7:30 p.m. — FX — The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1

And this movie.

8 p.m. — TBS — The Hangover

I was not a huge fan of this movie. Perhaps you felt differently.

8 p.m. — FXM — The Hurt Locker

Kathryn Bigalow has an incredible talent for composing brutally tense, harrowing sequences of action and danger. But her characters kinda suck. They do! Her last great character was Bodie, in Point Break.


8 p.m. — BBC America — Hellboy


Three weeks down, 19 to go. Hang in there!