The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Sports

June 29, 2013

Toxic times for the NFL

It’s been a rough week for the NFL’s public image in the wake of the Aaron Hernandez saga that took place over the past few days, and now its decision to potentially jump into the political morass of Obamacare may further sully the league’s carefully crafted, but increasingly fragile, public image.

Hernandez, the formerly well-regarded tight end of the New England Patriots, was arrested this past week and charged with the murder of semi-pro football player Odin Lloyd, whose bullet-riddled body was found about a mile from Hernandez’s near-palatial estate in Attleboro, Mass. Reports suggest the evidence against Hernandez is rather compelling and he is being held without bail. He now also has potentially become a suspect in another double-homicide investigation.

It’s been a precipitous fall for Hernandez who emerged as one of the league’s up-and-coming stars as a tight end on one of the NFL’s best-known franchises.

Over the past three years, in 38 games, Hernandez has nearly 2,000 yards receiving and caught 18 touchdowns. But, don’t go to NFL.com to find those stats as they already have deleted his numbers.

How toxic has Hernandez become? The Patriots, who cut Hernandez the very day he was arrested, now are offering fans a free jersey of any other Patriots player if they want to turn-in their Hernandez jersey.

For obvious reasons, the league and the Pats can’t run far enough or fast enough from Hernandez.

You would think the league would want to keep a low profile and stay on the good side of the fans, after all the league also is dealing with a lawsuit from ex-players over concussions and still is recovering from the bounty scandal.

So, it is hard to figure what the league was thinking when Friday it was revealed it was considering partnering with the Obama administration to push maybe the most toxic piece of legislation to come along in the past 50 years.

Reports indicate Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius wants to enlist the NFL in getting the word out about Obamacare, to help encourage people to sign up for it, and to generally sing its praises.

The NFL has a track record with causes such as fighting cancer, promoting exercise for kids and other worthwhile endeavors. This would not be one of those.

Polls have consistently shown a majority of the American public want Obamacare repealed. Studies have likewise shown costs would rise, not decrease, under this new health care law and people have already begun losing their jobs as employers are faced with rising costs under the health care mandate.

When word leaked Friday the NFL was considering this potential advocacy partnership, many fans were outraged, some claiming they would be through with the NFL.

It is doubtful fans would abandon the NFL en masse, but ironically it may prove easier for the league to distance itself from an alleged murderer than if it finds itself pushing an unpopular, divisive agenda.

The NFL needs to step cautiously through this  quagmire, or better yet, avoid it completely.

Ruthenberg is sports editor of the News & Eagle. Contact him at daver@enidnews.com.

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