Sports

DAN SHAUGHNESSY

NFL plays on, unscathed by a rash of scandals

Ray Rice had his arbitration hearing this week, but even if he is reinstated, it’s doubtful a team will sign him EPA/ANDREW GOMBERT
Andrew Gomberrt/EPA
Ray Rice had his arbitration hearing this week, but even if he is reinstated, it’s doubtful a team will sign him.

Remember when Roger Goodell was going to be fired or be forced to step down? Remember the worst week in the history of the NFL? Two months ago, it was raining domestic abuse and NFL headquarters was the Nixon White House and everybody was taking a long hard look at our appetite for professional football.

No more. The NFL Steamroller is grinding ahead, crushing everything in its path. We love our football. And how silly to think that it was ever threatened.

In this market, the Patriots-Broncos game last Sunday was the second-most-watched regular-season game in history. Nationally, it was CBS’s third-most-popular game since 1998.

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The NFL’s September stench is largely gone with the wind. Adrian Peterson, accused of whipping his 4-year-old son with a “switch,’’ has cut a deal with a Texas court, avoided jail, and no doubt will be reinstated at some point. Meanwhile, Ray Rice gets his hearing to fight his indefinite ban, stemming from the videotaped assault of his wife. If Rice wins his appeal, he’ll have a hard time getting any team to hire him. Running backs are a dime a dozen, nobody needs Rice’s baggage, and there aren’t many owners who’d want to make Goodell look bad.

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Goodell is perfectly secure again. The domestic abuse crisis has been handled, most former players are accepting a multimillion dollar settlement over concussions, and it’s business as usual for the NFL. The commissioner is back in his Manhattan tower counting cash as advertisers line up to buy National Football League time. In the days after the bad headlines, the league rolled out a time-tested formula for damage control and recovery: deny, stay the course, hire a few women, appoint a broom-ready internal investigator who works for a firm that has negotiated billion-dollar TV deals with the league, dress your players in pink trimmings to “Fight Breast Cancer,” and air a bunch of “Say No More” public service announcements.

Lastly, make sure your television partners emphasize your seriousness about these issues. Two months later, it’s as if nothing ever happened.

The league is more popular than ever. Sports talk shows are wall-to-wall NFL. For a lot of young adults, fantasy football is more popular than just about anything. The wiseguys in Vegas are getting rich, and fans are setting their clocks in concert with the NFL schedule.

It’s hard to even remember that some folks were contemplating the league’s eve of destruction just eight weeks ago. Goodell, who made $44 million last year, is more secure than Joe Kennedy, who ran unopposed in the Fourth Congressional District.

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The story line was that the league was going to be in trouble because advertisers were going to step forward and pull their sponsorships. On Sept. 16, mighty Anheuser-Busch (halfway through a six-year, $1.2 billion deal) issued a statement saying the company was “disappointed and increasingly concerned by the recent incidents that have overshadowed this NFL season.’’

The beer folks said they were “not yet satisfied with the league’s handling of behaviors.’’

Since that PR threat was floated, it has been nothing but crickets from Bud’s corporate headquarters in St. Louis. Like all other advertisers, Bud knows that the NFL is DVR-proof. It’s the only television programming that demands that folks are going to watch the ads. In other words, the NFL wins again.

I do a fair amount of public speaking in our area, and I’m usually asked about football’s concussion problem and how it will affect the future of the sport.

In places like Concord and Newton, fewer kids are playing football because parents are concerned about head injuries. I applaud these parents and appreciate the question, but my standard answer is that the NFL doesn’t care if there’s a dropoff in football participation in the Dual County League. The league doesn’t stock its rosters with players from Acton-Boxborough and Lincoln-Sudbury. Come talk to me when there are fewer tryouts in the football factories, places such as Brownsville (Texas), Fort Myers (Florida), or Western Pennsylvania.

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The NFL has admitted that as many as one in three players will suffer brain trauma, but envisions no difficulty stocking rosters in future decades. There will always be strong, fast young men willing to sacrifice their bodies for the fortunes and glory of college scholarships and professional football.

The NFL is the most lucrative league in the world, a $9 billion industry intent on becoming a $25 billion industry. The value of the top 10 franchises increased between 22 and 44 percent in the last year. According to Forbes, your Patriots have increased in value by 44 percent in the last year.

There is no perceptible fallout from the sins that led to the league’s September crisis. The noise has subsided and football is king again.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @dan_shaughnessy.