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USC professor: NFL lacks trust

Results of a poll released Monday suggest that the image of the NFL was deteriorating even before the latest series of missteps.

Celebrity brand tracker and USC professor Jeetendr Sehdev said he polled 3,000 people representative of the general population, ages 16 to 60, from February through May through online polls, focus groups and one-on-one interviews.

"It's surprising to hear people in the media say how durable the NFL brand is, that it can withstand a series of onslaughts and PR disasters, when the truth is the NFL has been crumbling." USC professor Jeetendr Sehdev

"It's surprising to hear people in the media say how durable the NFL brand is, that it can withstand a series of onslaughts and PR disasters, when the truth is the NFL has been crumbling," Sehdev said.

Sehdev said his data -- taken in the offseason -- reflect that the NFL scores in the lowest 10 percent of the 200 brands across four of the seven most important factors of trust: openness, acceptance, compassion and consistency. He reasons that, if the NFL continues on its course, the league will be one of America's least trusted brands in the next five years.

The majority of those polled (54 percent) said they don't trust NFL players, which Sehdev said was 32 percent higher than the other sports leagues, and 66 percent of people think the league is partly responsible for the behavior of its players.

Women were 13 percent less trusting of the NFL than men were, a number that was 8 percent higher than the average sentiment toward other sports leagues.

"Just because the NFL brings in a lot of revenue doesn't mean people can't perceive the league as incredibly untrustworthy," Sehdev said. "Exxon Mobil, Goldman Sachs and Walmart all make a lot of money but have really low levels of trust among consumers."

Fresh off the heels of the accounts of harassment of Jonathan Martin by Miami Dolphins teammate Richie Incognito, 70 percent of people that took part in the study said the league encourages a culture that supports harassment, racism and bullying. That number is five times higher than any other sports league, Sehdev said.

Quantitative data could be used to argue with Sehdev's results. The NFL is the only American sports league that has topped $10 billion in annual revenue, and television ratings and attendance have not wavered as the league has been criticized for its treatment of concussions and the fallout associated with Ray Rice and the lack of attention the NFL has paid to domestic assault. The league cites data that reflects that 46 percent of its fan base is female, and an ESPN Sports Poll showed that 21 percent of women said the NFL was their favorite sports league, nearly double that of the next most popular league (Major League Baseball, 12 percent).