The NFL in Crisis

The NFL in Crisis
Adam Tiouririne Adam Tiouririne | Bio | Posts
15 Sep 2014 | 4:11PM

Half of NFL fans ended this weekend thrilled by their team’s win — myself included — but almost no fans are satisfied with the performance of the league itself. A raft of high-profile domestic violence cases has plunged America’s pastime (sorry, baseball) into crisis.

The matchup of the week: The NFL against these four principles of effective crisis management.

The NFL media-industrial-complex is so formidable that big sports broadcasters have long been accused of being “in bed with” the league. If that’s true, then they must’ve told the NFL to go sleep on the couch Sunday night.

NBC’s million-man army (okay, I only counted eleven on-air personalities) was on the march. One cringe-inducing stretch of on-field highlights included four off-field lowlights — in under two minutes.

  • Highlights from Carolina 24, Detroit 7, and the analysts mention the deactivation of Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy following a domestic violence conviction.
  • Highlights from New England 30, Minnesota 7, and we cut to the Vikings coach downplaying the child abuse indictment of superstar running back Adrian Peterson.
  • Segue to the featured game of the night, Chicago at San Francisco, with a shot of 49ers defensive end Ray McDonald, who the crew notes is suited up on the sidelines despite a pending domestic violence investigation.
  • And finally, as the program cuts to a commercial break, the hosts allude to former Baltimore running back Ray Rice’s domestic violence saga.

And that’s just one weekend. The NFL police blotter is so busy that the San Diego Union-Tribune keeps a collective rap sheet dating back to 2000. So the NFL has a serious problem with media coverage, right?

Wrong.

Every crisis is a business problem first. It’s not that NFL players are perceived as domestic abusers; it’s that they actually are being arrested for domestic violence at a shocking rate. That’s a business problem, which requires business solutions — thorough investigations, sound management, revised processes.

This NFL crisis started (publicly, anyway) when Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was caught on camera this spring in Atlantic City, NJ, dragging his unconscious then-fiancée from a casino elevator. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell delivered a two-game suspension. For the Ravens’ first two games, that’s five days, from Sunday to Thursday.

But then a new security tape emerged. In the latest graphic recording, we see Rice not just dragging his partner out of the elevator, but actually knocking her out cold. Goodell’s response: “No one in the NFL [saw the second video] to my knowledge.”

But how on Earth did a multi-billion-dollar league with a multi-million-dollar private security network get out-investigated by TMZ? That business failure has led to a devastating perception that the NFL’s investigation was anything but thorough. Take it from Chris Kristofco, writing at Titletown:

If Rice’s answers were ambiguous, and Goodell knew there was a tape out there that he hadn’t seen, how could he believe it was a thorough investigation? He didn’t. He didn’t care.

If any simple sentence structure should invoke a leader’s terror, it’s that one: “Subject negative-linking-verb care.” (See also: “BP doesn’t really care about this.” “Families feel that Hayward and BP simply didn’t care.” “BP probably doesn’t care what the Gulf Coast thinks.“)

In light of the new video, the NFL lengthened Rice’s suspension to “indefinite” and his Baltimore Ravens cut him from the team. But the uproar continues.

What should the NFL do to deal with the business problem and avoid the perception of indifference? The answer comes not from within the league, but from its stakeholders. And it’s the same answer as for any organization in crisis: Do what people would reasonably expect a responsible organization do in this situation.

That probably includes better training and support for all players to prevent domestic violence, benching for players under investigation, and far harsher penalties — lifetime bans, anyone? — for players who are convicted. To its credit, the league is already taking some of these steps.

And by the way, “this situation” also includes a pile of tax-exempt profits bigger than Vince Wilfork (above) on Thanksgiving. So people would reasonably expect a hefty investment in these domestic violence prevention efforts.

Deadspin, a leading sports website, has chronicled what it calls Goodell’s lies in the Ray Rice case. Even the more demure Washington Post is now questioning the NFL’s credibility.

It will take time — months, perhaps years, of meeting stakeholders’ reasonable expectations — to restore trust in league leadership. For the NFL and Commissioner Roger Goodell, it’s a much less festive version of Super Bowl Sunday: The lights are on, and the world is watching.

Share your thoughts here, like this post on LinkedIn, or tweet @Tiouririne.

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Posted on: September 15, 2014
Posted by: Adam

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