Sam Hurd’s arrest on a federal charge of conspiracy to distribute cocaine will cause months of public-relations headaches for the National Football League without driving fans away from the most-watched sport in the U.S., analysts said.
“They’re not turning off the TV, they’re not shying away from fantasy sports and they’re not giving up gambling on games because of this,” David Carter, executive director of the Sports Business Institute at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business, said in a telephone interview yesterday.
Hurd, a 26-year-old wide receiver for the Chicago Bears, was charged in a criminal complaint filed yesterday in Dallas with one count of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of a cocaine mixture. If convicted, Hurd faces a minimum of five years and a maximum of 40 years in federal prison.
The NFL has more than $9 billion in annual revenue and the charge against Hurd rivals other issues the league has faced, such as dog fighting, shootings and performance-enhancing drug use, Carter said.
“This is not going to go away,” Carter said. “It’s going to be an ongoing issue because they’re going to have to wait for the legal process to play out and something like this would appear to be pretty high profile, coming from a big market and a guy who’s been in the league for several years.”
$25,000 a Kilo
Hurd and an undercover Homeland Security Investigations agent negotiated the purchase of up to 10 kilograms (22 pounds) of cocaine and 1,000 pounds of marijuana per week, at a price of $25,000 per kilogram of cocaine and $450 per pound of marijuana, according to a court filing. Those figures mean Hurd would have been willing to pay as much as $700,000 a week for the drugs.
Hurd had been under investigation since July and was arrested outside a Chicago restaurant after accepting a kilogram of cocaine from the undercover agent, according to an affidavit filed with the court by George Ramirez, a special agent for Homeland Security Investigations.
Hurd told the agent that he already was distributing four kilograms of cocaine weekly and that his supplier couldn’t keep up with the demand from his customers, according to the court document.
The seriousness of the allegation makes it unlikely it will be resolved soon, said Carter.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell won’t be able to address the issue at a league level until the legal process runs its course, Carter said. He likened it to what the National Collegiate Athletic Association and its president, Mark Emmert, could do in the child sex-abuse scandal surrounding Penn State University, where a former assistant coach, Jerry Sandusky, is charged with sexually assaulting 10 young boys over a 15-year period.
Sandusky has denied any wrongdoing. The case led to the firing of Penn State’s football coach, Joe Paterno, who has the most victories at the college sport’s top level, and the removal of Graham B. Spanier as the university’s president.
“This isn’t just about Goodell dishing out some punishment and the impact on the NFL brand, this is much bigger than that,” Carter said. “It’s going to be so big that he’s going to defer to the legal system on this, maybe not unlike how NCAA President Emmert has had to wait for the legal proceedings to run their course at Penn State.”
The NFL has faced other public-relations obstacles in recent years: the dog-fighting case of Pro Bowl quarterback Michael Vick; shootings such as the one involving then-New York Giants receiver Plaxico Burress; failed steroid tests; and on- field concerns regarding players’ head trauma.
The league still signed nine-year contract extensions with its network television partners two days ago that will generate about 60 percent more revenue through 2022.
While Hurd’s case might generate headlines for months, it’s unlikely to keep people from watching the NFL, said Carter.
“They still want to see if the Packers can go undefeated, they still want to see if Tim Tebow can beat the Patriots,” Carter said.
The Bears are more likely to take an image hit from Hurd’s arrest than the league, according to Steve Rosner, co-founder of East Rutherford, New Jersey-based 16W Marketing LLC.
“It might trickle down a little bit to the team more than the league because they have more direct contact on a daily basis,” Rosner said in a telephone interview. “So the bad media, the bad PR, even sponsor-related things might be in question, but nothing long term that will affect either the NFL or the Bears.”
The Bears issued a statement yesterday saying that they are “continuing to gather details” surrounding Hurd’s arrest.
“We are disappointed whenever these circumstances arise,” the statement said. “We will deal with them appropriately once we have all the information.”
Ashanti Webb, Hurd’s agent, declined to comment in a telephone interview yesterday. Greg Aiello, a spokesman for the league, declined to comment in an e-mail.
Hurd spent his first five NFL seasons with the Dallas Cowboys before joining the Bears as a free agent in July. The San Antonio native, who played at Northern Illinois University, has eight catches for 109 yards this season, and 77 receptions for 739 yards for his career.
The case is U.S. v. Hurd, 3-11-mj-590-bf, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Texas.
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