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NFL Fans Still Watch Football Despite Players' Scandals

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

After another week of NFL players making headlines for all the wrong reasons, it's time to play football again. Last night in Atlanta, the Falcons took on their division rivals, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, at home. But as Rose Scott from member station WABE reports, fans are still frustrated with the NFL's handling of players' misdeeds off the field.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

ROSE SCOTT, BYLINE: Sports bars absolutely love a weeknight like this. The home team, in this case the Atlanta Falcons, are playing and winning, and the place is packed with fans cheering and giving high-fives to one another. There are more than 70 television screens inside Atlanta's Hudson Grille sports bar. Twenty-three-year-old Rozina Lambright is wearing a Matt Ryan number two jersey, the Falcons quarterback. He's having a pretty good night, but she admits with all the news regarding domestic abuse, it's a little hard to be cheering.

ROZINA LAMBRIGHT: It is really difficult to watch, especially with it happening between so many players. It makes me feel like maybe this is something that generally happens within the NFL that isn't shown behind - from behind closed doors.

SCOTT: But TJ Baker, who came to watch the Falcons game with Lambright, says he's just happy to see a game and not focus on the NFL's problems.

TJ BAKER: I felt like with Adrian Peterson and now Jonathan Dwyer and Ray Rice - I felt like the NFL's been getting a lot of bad press. So I'm happy to see just normal football going on 'cause a lot of the talk has just been about all the bad stuff that's been happening. So I'm just glad to see it, I guess, returning to some sense of normalcy.

SCOTT: Outside on the patio, fans are reacting to another touchdown by the Falcons. Michael Ludlow is a criminal defense attorney. He turns to his buddy, an assistant district attorney, to raise this point.

MICHAEL LUDLOW: I honestly think they should let the criminal justice system take care of it. And if it's so bad that the employer needs to suspend the employee because of people's public backlash, I think it's a problem with society itself. There is maybe, what - what do you think, DeTardo? - thousands of domestic violence complaints every day? And everyone's complaining about one. Why aren't we up in arms about all of them? They happen every day.

SCOTT: DeTardo is Mike DeTardo, an assistant DA from nearby Jackson County. He questions whether the NFL is truly concerned about domestic violence.

MIKE DETARDO: I think they're looking out for their image. I think it shows by their actions. Commissioner Goodell suspended Ray Rice for two games, until he got backlash, and then reversed course on that.

SCOTT: As far as NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and whether he should resign, Jamie Hennessy, originally from Britain, has become a fan of American football and finds that tough to answer.

JAMIE HENNESSY: It's a difficult question. I don't think that, personally, he's done much wrong. But the organization that he's in charge of hasn't acted accordingly in my eyes. And therefore, you've got to ask the question.

SCOTT: Perhaps another question for the league is how will it reach out to female fans? In this packed sports bar, many of the fans were women. Earlier this week, Commissioner Goodell named four women as advisors for what's being called a social responsibility team. Their assignment is to look into domestic abuse in the NFL. However, the league needs to make sure it's doing more than that, says Taylor Brown.

TAYLOR BROWN: You need to go to the root of the problem, and talk to the players about how to treat women and respect for women. They don't necessarily owe it to the fans.

SCOTT: So far this year, five NFL players have been arrested for domestic violence. And most recently, Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings was indicted on a child abuse charge. For NPR News, I'm Rose Scott in Atlanta. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.