LOS ANGELES, July 1, 2013—The National Football League announced that it will not be helping Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius promote the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare.
The Obama administration’s attempts to use the NFL to promote a social policy is seen by critics as brazen, but from a marketing standpoint is quite sensible. The NFL is the big dog of all sports, and everybody wants to be associated with the top dog, popular kid, or whatever metaphor applies. The same adjectives apply in the reverse direction. Saying no to a president may be seen as brazen, but in this case was quite sensible.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is obsessed with protecting “the shield” at all costs. Unlike politicians, the premiere sports league benefits from being all things to all people. The NFL unites people. Politics causes division. On the rare occasions the league gets political, it does so very carefully.
The NFL has enthusiastically taken up the cause of combating breast cancer. In October, the NFL honors breast cancer awareness month by having their players add the symbolic color pink to their uniforms. The players, normally tied to strict dress codes, love the freedom and compete with each other to be the most creative with their pink additions.
The NFL has also worked with President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden on a campaign to combat domestic violence against women. The “One is too many” campaign features Obama, Biden, and various sports celebrities telling America that domestic abuse is never acceptable.
After 9/11, the NFL wrapped itself in the American flag. Military personnel were given higher profiles in pregame ceremonies, a trend that continues to this day. President George W. Bush flipped the coin to start the season, and Obama has been invited to do the same. While the league never officially endorsed the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, they certainly supported the troops.
These three political stances the NFL has taken all have one thing in common. They have near universal support. Who could possibly disagree with fighting breast cancer? Who supports domestic violence? Even people against the recent wars supported the troops that were there. These issues are political, but they are also non-controversial.
Even the NFL’s decision to wade into the affirmative action discussion is far less controversial than one would think. The NFL adopted the Rooney Rule several years ago to promote more hiring of minorities to coaching and executive positions. Yet unlike in the general population, affirmative action was far less disliked in the league itself.
The reasoning is simple. Black Americans make up only 12% of all Americans, but they comprise about two-thirds of all players. So to have so few black head coaches justified taking action, and again was an issue that virtually nobody disagreed with. It benefitted the players, the owners, and always most importantly, the image of the shield.
The problem with Obamacare is, fairly or unfairly, it is controversial. The law is disliked especially among men, and the NFL is a league where 100% of the players are men. The NFL is already facing controversies over player safety in the rash of a string of suicides. The last thing it wants is to anger even a large fraction of its fan base.
When ESPN hired political radio host Rush Limbaugh to discuss football, controversy immediately ensued. The experiment lasted only two days, and Limbaugh was, again fairly or unfairly, denied consideration by Commissioner Goodell to own a franchise.
If Obama wants the NFL to help promote anything political, he has to show that his proposal is overwhelmingly popular in the country and beneficial to the league. Promoting child health is yet another example of the NFL taking an active stance. It’s “Move along” campaign promoting exercise for kids is impossible to find fault with.
Obama is smart enough to know that he benefits from associating himself with the NFL. Yet such a melding will not take place unless and until the NFL sees the benefit to associating with him and his policies. With Obamacare, that standard threshold has not been met.
Follow Eric on Twitter @TYGRRRREXPRESS Eric Golub is an independent writer for the Communities. Read more from Eric at his TYGRRRR EXPRESS blog.
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