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Even In Bounty-Gate NFL Wins

It’s the first week of March.  The Super Bowl is over.  The Combine is over.  The draft is over a month away.  Yet every sports talk show in the Western world led off, today, with the NFL. @JoeBianchino

All publicity is good publicity.  Never, in a voracious, 24 hour media world in which a person’s worst moment can be used to make them a global star, has that statement rang more true.  For the NFL, this means that the league’s darker moments, its biggest controversies, can, in some odd, corrupted way, serve to further the product.  Last offseason it was the lockout.  Petty, absurd, and overly drawn out as it was, the NFL lockout overshadowed, in some small part, the seasons of the NBA, NHL – though that doesn’t take a lot of effort – and  the MLB, and helped begin the 2011 NFL season in the midst of a heightened fervor that the league hadn’t experienced in years.

A. Messerschmidt, Getty Images

And now, fresh off of one of their more successful seasons in recent memory, another story has thrust the NFL into prominence.  This time, it is a scandal involving the New Orleans Saints financially rewarding their players for cart off and knockout hits.  The story first broke last week, and since, has dominated news coverage – taking precedence over NCAA games, a battle between two of hockey’s best teams, and two brilliant NBA performances (Deron Williams and Rajon Rondo).  It’s exactly what the NFL wants, even if it is through this medium.

So much of the NFL’s recent success can be attributed to the league’s efforts to make football a year-round game, one in which the NFL brand is never too far away.  The start of the season in September.  Super Bowl in the first week of February.  Combine a few weeks later.  Free agency in March.  The Draft in April.  Mini-Camps in May and June.  Training camp in July and August.  No other league, be it the NBA, NCAA, NHL or MLB is without the shadow of the NFL’s dominant presence.  And now, at a time in which such a shadow is generally at its absolute weakest, this scandal comes along and darkens the glow – not for the NFL – for the other leagues left thirsting for limelight in its wake.  And that’s the point.

The last few days of February and the first days of March are historically penciled in as the weeks in which our crushing disappointment that the NFL season is over finally begins to pass as the NBA, NHL and NCAA seasons ramp up.  But instead of all that, we’re talking NFL.  Instead of sitting on a couch Sunday night bemoaning the fact that Rangers-Bruins had been relegated thunder deep in the Sports Center highlight lineup, I sat glued to my television while Sports Center led with the NFL scandal…before succumbing to the anger brought on by Rangers-Bruins barely making the telecast.

Sure, this story has the potential to be damaging to the NFL, but it won’t.  Public opinion is already too divided.  While some think this an unacceptable act of barbarism, others find it much ado about something so common in the league that it really amounts to nothing – doesn’t quite roll off the tongue as much as the Shakespeare title, eh?  The bottom line is, there will be no swell of public outrage that forces sponsors from the NFL or otherwise makes this story damaging to the league.  The appropriate parties will be punished, sternly I’m sure, and sometime before training camps open the story will simply go away. In the meantime, during a stretch of months in which the NFL usually plays third fiddle to other American sports, they will dominate the headlines with stories like “Who knew what?  What punishments will the Saints get?  How does this effect their draft?  How does it effect everyone else’s draft?  Will other teams be next?  ect. ect. ect.”

Sure, it’s bad press.  But in today’s media, and when you’re taking coverage away from leagues that are your competitors, is there really such a thing?  And is this story really that thing?

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