Cover Girl has landed in the unflattering spotlight of the NFL domestic abuse scandal as activists pressuring sponsors to boycott the league circulate a doctored ad of a female football fan with a black eye.
Hunt Valley-based Cover Girl, the official beauty sponsor of the NFL, is behind the "Get Your Game Face On" ad campaign featuring models wearing the jerseys and makeup colors of each of the league's 32 teams. That includes the Baltimore Ravens, where Ray Rice was a running back until his $35 million contract was terminated last week after a video surfaced that showed him knocking his fiancee unconscious in an elevator. The couple married shorty after the incident.
Activists digitally altered the image of the Ravens model to turn her wing-shaped purple eye makeup into a black eye. Over the past couple of days the meme has taken off on social media, often accompanied by the hashtag #goodellmustgo to call for the ouster of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. Goodell has been criticized for his response to several NFL domestic abuse scandals, including suspending Rice in July for two games when he learned of the elevator fight.
As the social media campaign flourished, sponsor pressure on the NFL continued to gather steam. On Tuesday, Anheuser-Busch, the official beer of the NFL since 2011, said in a statement that it was "disappointed and increasingly concerned by the recent events that have overshadowed the NFL season" and that it was "not yet satisfied with the league's handling" of its players' behaviors. It added that it had shared its concerns and expectations with the league.
Cover Girl has not pulled its sponsorship of the NFL or its football-themed ads. It issued the following statement in response to the controversy: "As a brand that has always supported women and stood for female empowerment, Cover Girl believes domestic violence is completely unacceptable. We developed our NFL program to celebrate the more than 80 million female football fans. In light of recent events, we have encouraged the NFL to take swift action on their path forward to address the issue of domestic violence."
Adele Stan, who posted the original doctored image Thursday on Twitter, called Cover Girl's statement "wholly inadequate" in a Twitter post Tuesday. Stan works as a senior digital editor at The American Prospect magazine but her activism is personal, she said on Twitter.
After Stan's original post, the image was further doctored and circulated by women's rights group UltraViolet. It has been tweeted thousands of times. UltraViolet was the group that flew "#GoodellMustGo" banners over some football stadiums Sunday and Monday evenings.
A subsidiary of the Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble, Cover Girl was founded in Maryland in 1961 and manufactures products at a plant in Hunt Valley. It employs about 940 people in Baltimore County, according to the county's department of economic development.
Whether the hashtag campaign will threaten business sponsors such as Cover Girl with enough bad publicity to drop the NFL remains to be seen. Several sponsors, including Nike, ended their endorsement deals with Rice. The Radisson hotel chain Monday acted more broadly when it pulled its sponsorship of the Minnesota Vikings after the team announced it would let running back Adrian Peterson play despite a felony indictment on child abuse charges.
Cover Girl will be assessing the fallout to determine whether it does any real damage to its brand, including the amount of media attention and whether shoppers are telling people on the sales floor that they may leave for other beauty brands, said Ron Culp, a professor of public relations and advertising at DePaul University's College of Communication.
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"For the most part Cover Girl is concerned about their customer," Culp said.
Most people view the image as a clever way to use an existing advertisement to get back at the NFL, and don't correlate Cover Girl with the domestic violence issue, Culp said. Still, because it's a brand for women, it was "low-hanging fruit" for activists wishing to get their point across.
Meantime, some domestic violence advocates caution that the doctored Cover Girl image, powerful in part because of the role makeup plays in covering up signs of physical abuse, may not be helpful to their cause if it perpetuates the notion that domestic violence is only physical.
While black eyes and split lips are real experiences for many women, "I think it represents only one aspect of domestic violence," said Stephanie Love-Patterson, associate director of Connections for Abused Women and Their Children, a Chicago nonprofit that provides shelter, counseling and advocacy. Abuse can be psychological, emotional, verbal, sexual and financial, she said.
"We want to make sure that when we're creating messages about domestic violence that we create a full spectrum of what domestic violence is so that people can see it or hear it and fit themselves into that category," Love-Patterson said. While shocking images like the Cover Girl ad were helpful when domestic abuse was barely on people's radar, the focus now needs to be on education, she said.
"It's easy for people to look at a poster like that and think, 'Oof, I'll never let that happen to me,'" she said. "And they could well be victims of domestic violence."
Baltimore Sun reporter Tim Swift contributed to this report.