CBS Sports was clearly hoping to avoid controversy by canceling a scheduled performance by Rihanna at last night’s Baltimore Ravens-Pittsburgh Steelers game. Showcasing the singer, herself a victim of domestic violence, during the week in which the Ravens released running back Ray Rice for assaulting a woman was too much for the network to bear, apparently. But, instead of successfully tamping down the issue, the network has further stoked emotions.
Domestic violence is a social problem in which many people suffer in silence. In a vast majority of cases, victims refuse to come forward out of fear, shame or the misguided hope that the violence will stop of its own accord. CBS inadvertently reinforced that mindset by canceling Rihanna’s performance.
Communicators certainly don’t look forward to being in situations where they are going to incur wrath regardless of the decision they make. In this case, the signal that CBS may have wanted to send was that the network wanted to focus on football and steer clear of any implied connection to the ugly actions of one player. The message that was received by many, however, was that victims of domestic violence are correct in fearing that they will be treated like pariahs and are better off remaining silent about the abuse they suffered.
CBS should have taken a cue from the current travails of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who is now facing heat for dragging his feet on the Rice episode. Skirting an issue like domestic violence, which carries incalculable emotional power among the public, will send a message that your brand is callous and uncaring. These are not qualities you want to be associated with in any circumstance.
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