American beer company Anheuser-Busch issued a public statement earlier this week expressing its concern about the manner in which the National Football League (NFL) has handled recent domestic violence controversies. But the move has led to some complaints about potential hypocrisy, considering the link between domestic violence and alcohol consumption.
Anheuser-Busch, the official sponsor of the NFL season, counts among a host of advertisers — including McDonalds, Proctor & Gamble, Campbell’s Soup, and Target — that have spoken about the NFL’s course of actions in recent weeks. While some say the company’s statement may signal the end of a $194 million relationship, Anheuser-Busch has yet to pull any advertising.
“We are disappointed and increasingly concerned by the recent incidents that have overshadowed this NFL season,” global brewer Anheuser-Busch said in a statement. “We are not yet satisfied with the league’s handling of behaviors that so clearly go against our own company culture and code. We have shared our concerns and expectations with the league.”
While Anheuser-Busch’s recent statement echoes that of other organizations and advocacy groups, some people haven’t taken it at face value. John Stewart of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show joked about Anheuser-Busch’s official statement on his show on Wednesday, saying “How crazy is this? A company that sells alcohol is the moral touchstone of the NFL.”
Arian Foster of the Houston Texans also didn’t mince words when he took to Twitter on Tuesday. Foster decried the “media wave” that he said turned speaking out against domestic violence — an issue of great prominence long before the Ray Rice video surfaced — into a fad. The 28-year-old running back also called Anheuser-Bush out for “selling poison on that high horse,” adding that “domestic violence and alcohol damn near synonymous.”
There’s some truth to that statement. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention designates alcohol consumption — either by the perpetrator or both parties involved — as a leading risk factor for domestic abuse. Rates of excessive drinking and domestic violence among men range anywhere between 52 and 85 percent — rates three times that of nonviolent men.
While experts say drinking doesn’t directly cause the violence, it can increase the severity and frequency of abuse, due in part to the loss in inhibitions that drinkers have once under the influence. Drunk abusers can cause significant bodily and mental harm to their spouses, including but not limited to: physical injury leading to pregnancy complications in some women, depression, thoughts of suicide, and homicide. And victims of domestic violence sometimes use alcohol as a way to self-medicate, and that may end up being a barrier to feeling like they can leave the relationship.
Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice — whose incident in Atlantic City sparked the viral discussion about domestic violence — admitted alcohol played a crucial part in his poor decision making that February evening. Rice has attended court-ordered anger management counseling.
Advocates say there’s a complicated relationship between the two behaviors, and many abusers use alcohol as a scapegoat. “Men who batter frequently use alcohol abuse as an excuse for their violence. They attempt to rid themselves of responsibility for the problem by blaming it on the effects of alcohol,” anti-sexual assault group Safe Zone explains.
Earlier this month, the NFL indefinitely suspended Rice after footage surfaced of the running back knocking his fiancé out cold in an elevator. Since Rice’s suspension, other players — including the Carolina Panthers’ Greg Hardy and the Arizona Cardinal’s Jonathan Dwyer — have had punitive action taken against them in the midst of their own domestic violence cases. The Minnesota Vikings also deactivated running back Adrian Peterson after news broke about allegations of child abuse brought against him.
But a slew of critics have called the NFL’s course of action too little, too late. Since Commissioner Roger Goodell handed down the indefinite suspension, sports commentators, political pundits, women’s groups, and anti-domestic violence advocates have spoken out against what they consider the NFL’s efforts to repair a broken public image rather than hold its players accountable for their actions off of the field. Anheuser-Busch’s response may fall along similar lines.