316 1 LINKEDIN MORE

The NFL’s famous “Shield” is cracking.

A day after Radisson said it was cutting ties with the Minnesota Vikings as a result of running back Adrian Peterson being indicted for child abuse, Anheuser-Busch, one of the league’s biggest sponsors, took the NFL to task Tuesday for its woeful inconsistencies on domestic violence.

“We are disappointed and increasingly concerned by the recent incidents that have overshadowed this NFL season. We are not yet satisfied with the league’s handling of behaviors that so clearly go against our own company culture and moral code,” the beermaker said in a statement to USA TODAY Sports.

“We have shared our concerns and expectations with the league.”

No, Anheuser-Busch isn’t pulling its $ 1.2 billion contract – yet. But it doesn’t take a marketing genius to see what’s down the road if the NFL doesn’t get its act together. And fast.

This has always been the NFL’s biggest fear. It can weather some bad publicity; it’s been doing that for years with the concussion crisis.

But when a major sponsor starts calling the NFL’s “moral code” into question, it gives other companies license to do the same. And if the corporate good will starts drying up so, too, will the owners’ patience. The NFL is a more than $ 9 billion-per-year cash cow, and owners will protect that at all costs.

Even if it means sacrificing Commissioner Roger Goodell.

Goodell has taken a lot of heat for his ridiculously light punishment of Ray Rice. But the owners are hardly blameless in this mess. Last time I checked, the San Francisco 49ers were sticking by Ray McDonald. Carolina’s Greg Hardy missed Sunday’s game, but he played opening week.

And the Vikings will be a case study for how to botch a crisis. Their decision to reinstate Peterson seemed just a little too convenient, coming a day after the team was routed by New England. The news conference explaining the decision can only be described as awkward – and that was before allegations surfaced that Peterson had faced a similar accusation of child abuse in the past.

These are hard issues to deal with, trying to balance legal proceedings for moral accountability. But the NFL had better get it figured out fast or the cracks in that prized shield will spread.

316 1 LINKEDIN MORE