UB Marketing Professor: Ray Rice, NFL can do more to clean up images

The 2014 NFL season started with scandal when the video of what happened in the fight between former Ravens running back Ray Rice and his then-fiancé (now wife), inside an elevator in the Revel Casino in Atlantic City was released to the public. After that, a handful of other players were arrested and charged with domestic violence, sexual assault, and child abuse. In spite of achieving all-time highs in both TV ratings and revenue, the season ended with accusations that the Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots used underhand lated footballs during the AFC Championship Game against the Indianapolis Colts, as well as possibly during the Divisional Round against the Ravens. After such a scandal-plagued season, a UB professor says both Rice and the NFL can do more to improve their images.

Dr. Dennis Pitta, a Professor of Marketing in the Merrick School of Business, gave Rice credit for taking responsibility for knocking his now-wife Janay unconscious, and acknowledging that it was wrong and shouldn’t have happened. However, Pitta said there’s still one more piece to the puzzle that Rice can work on more.

“The third piece is that getting some kind of treatment therapy help to prevent it from happening in the future,” Pitta said, adding that there’s a way Rice can help other players from ending up in the same situation he got into.

“You know what I’d love to see him do? I’d love to see him do a workshop for other NFL players with the same kind of issues to show how he has gone from a guy who was abusive to his fiancé to a man who’s going to protect his wife,” Pitta said.

Pitta said by doing this, Rice can be more effective in getting through to the players, especially young players, than an outside professional like he did.

Rice wasn’t the only player arrested for violence against women and children this past season. Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson was charged with child abuse in Texas after using a switch to punish his four-year-old son for misbehaving. Peterson’s been suspended by the NFL until April 15. Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy was also arrested and charged with domestic violence, but those charges were dropped on Feb. 9 when his ex-girlfriend, the woman who accused him, wasn’t available to help prosecutors build a case against Hardy. He’s expected to be released by the Panthers this spring and become a free agent. San Francisco 49ers defensive lineman Ray McDonald was arrested and charged with sexual assault over Labor Day weekend, and was released by the team in December. Pitta says he’d like to see the NFL institute workshops for its players similar to what Maryland law requires for employees.

“We have Title IX kind of workshops to avoid any kind of sexual harassment issues. It’s mandatory. Everybody’s got to do it. The NFL should have a mandatory program so that anybody who is a critic could look in and say, ‘Oh, they do this. Everybody’s got to do it. No one’s going to escape. No one is the Most Valuable Player in the Super Bowl and get away and miss this.’ You need complete transparency. You need complete, comprehensive coverage of every player in the league,” Pitta said.

He said social media is playing a role in making it harder for the NFL to look the other way when such major issues and scandals crop up.

“Back in the day, when social media wasn’t so prevalent, so important, so powerful, the NFL could just shrug its shoulders, probably, and move on; but now there are organizations, watchdog groups that hold people accountable for what they’ve done, and what’s happening. The NFL is in a new era,” Pitta said. He says the NFL should make an effort to work with groups that advocate for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.

“They’re going to be working with their critics, and the only way the critics are going to be satisfied is if they see their input is taken and they see some work that’ll probably be effective,” Pitta said. With women becoming a bigger part of the NFL’s fan base, Pitta said the league can continue to sell its female fans on the greatness of the sport, and how it’s working with its players on being people who can be respected. He said that approach will have a better approach than just sweeping a problem under the rug and looking the other way. Pitta said football is here to stay, and the NFL will be able to overcome the scandals of this past season, but only until the next major controversy pops up.

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