The National Football League might not have any better friend than ESPN, the sports broadcasting colossus with which the league has a $15.2 billion Monday Night Football contract (for starters). But even in the friendly confines of Bristol, Conn., the league hasn't been able to escape criticism after a week that saw one star player belatedly suspended indefinitely for hitting his wife and another indicted for injuring his child.
ESPN anchor Hannah Storm anchored a special edition of SportsCenter on Sunday morning that focused on the league and particularly its handling of domestic violence cases involving its players. Storm concluded the hourlong program -- which led into the channel's NFL pregame show -- with an impassioned monologue on the league's approach to domestic violence.
Storm spoke of her befuddlement when being questioned about the controversy by her daughter and for the women whom she said make up 45 percent of the NFL fanbase.
"I spent the week answering seemingly impossible questions about the league's biggest stars," Storm said. "'Mom, why did he do that? Why isn't he in jail? Why didn't he get fired?'"
"Are fans, are families, are we as parents supposed to compartmentalize everything that's happening?" she said. "Are we supposed to simply separate a violent game on the field from violent acts off the field? And if we do, what message does that send?
The issue was brought to the forefront again last week when a video of running back Ray Rice punching his wife was leaked to TMZ. The NFL had already endured withering criticism for suspending Rice for only two games, and as a result of that criticism had revamped its policy on this issue. Reacting to the release of the video, the Baltimore Ravens released Rice and league commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Rice indefinitely.
Storm then turned her attention to the response by the league, which has grown to included an internal investigation about the Rice video and the hiring of domestic violence experts as advisers to the league.
"What exactly does zero-tolerance mean to the NFL?" Storm said. "Will the NFL, in all its power, take the lead on the issue of domestic violence?"
She concluded with a central question: "What exactly does the NFL stand for?"