What matters more to a sports league, threats to its players, or threats to its brand?
It's getting awfully hard to tell with the NFL these days. On Sunday afternoon, Bengals wide receiver Chad Ochocinco waved a dollar bill in the direction of a referee and said after the game, while smiling and laughing, that he was trying to "bribe" the official into making a call for his team. Then, on Sunday night, Eagles tight end Brent Celek, as part of a ham-handed viral marketing campaign, posed like Captain Morgan following a touchdown. The league reacted by fining Ochocinco $20,000 and making it clear that they'd do the same to anyone else who made like Celek and put their hands on their hips while raising their right leg.
The league's anger with both things is understandable: Ochocinco's on-screen joke lampoons the integrity of the league's officials and Celek's pose represents an attempt to advertise with the NFL without paying the NFL. What's disturbing is how quickly and harshly the league deals with these kinds of things when there are so many festering issues involving player safety sitting on the backburner.
What's worse, Ochocinco's act or Falcons coach Mike Smith escalating a fight during Sunday's game with the Redskins? Apparently, the forner, because Ochocinco was fined $5,000 more than an authority figure who couldn't control himself during a sideline scuffle. Generally speaking, the NFL doesn't seem to care much about what coaches do, as evidenced by Tom Cable's continued appearances on the Raiders sideline after assualting an assistant coach and admitting to knocking around one of his ex-wives. No player would be so lucky in today's NFL.
The double-standard goes on and on. Touchdown dances and sock length are rigorously scrutinized, while reports about the impact of head trauma on retired players are ridiculed by the league. Twitter accounts are seen as a bigger threat to the league than the fact that the Browns have players practice without pads against fully outfitted teammates. That led to running back James Davis being injured for the season, which the NFL said was fine and dandy. After the league's non-decision, the practice led to a second player getting injured during another round of league-sanctioned post-practice activities.
Ochocinco often comes off like a moron. And the NFL, like all successful companies, has a right and a responsibility to protect their brand from loose canons like him. But those efforts are counterproductive when the league comes off as more worried about Ochocinco's mouth than the safety of his body and his brain.