Crisis Management: NFL

The National Football League is clearly in the public eye regarding all of the domestic violence scandals brought on by such players as Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, and Greg Hardy. It has been harsh criticism towards how NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell, handled the Ray Rice’s disciplinary action. There is even more pressure on what the “standard” disciplinary action should be within the NFL for players who are irrefutably responsible domestic violence situations.  Accountability throughout the NFL was dropped over these scandals.

Photo Credit: Fortune.com  http://fortune.com/2014/09/20/ray-rice-adrian-peterson-tiger-woods-athletes-dropped-endorsements/
Photo Credit: Fortune.com http://fortune.com/2014/09/20/ray-rice-adrian-peterson-tiger-woods-athletes-dropped-endorsements/

The NFL has yet to lose any sponsors over this yet however they are requests from media buyers asking to shift their ads during Viking and Ravens games.  Players have personally lost endorsement deals including Rice’s endorsement with Nike.

Here are 6 leadership lessons, originally provided by Clinton Colmenares and paraphrased by me, for any organization to reference when they’re in a sticky situation:

  1. PR is strategic.  It should not be used to “spin” stories, especially in favor of the ones at fault.
  2. Find out ALL the facts.  In the Rice incident, it was the implication that the NFL had no knowledge of the video of Rice in an elevator showing physically attacking his then fiancée although the Associated Press says differently.  Plausible deniability is not an effective tactic in public relations as everything, especially in a huge viral scandal, will come to light.
  3. Be honest with stakeholders.  The initial punishment for Rice was a two-game suspension.  The NFL probably didn’t think the video would go viral months after initial punishment was implemented.  Now Rice is suspended indefinitely, thus showing the NFL was not serious about punishing its’ players.  The league also mentioned that they would conduct an “independent investigation.” Reporters easily noted that the investigator had NFL ties and would answer to NFL owners.
  4. Think long-term.  The Rice incident happened back in February but it went viral in September with the release of the video.  In this case “no news is good news” did not work in the NFL’s favor.
  5. Get ahead of bad news.  The NFL should have used this tip back in February.  If the public knew that action is being taken, people are more forgiving.  If you have to explain, you’re losing wrong and you’ve lost  control over the situation
  6. Rely on values.  Continuing to allow bad decisions based on poor judgement and weak values to be made can be the decline of an organization.  It can become a societal issue.  Controversies, particularly within the NFL (domestic violence, concussions, player violence, substance abuse) can and have created mistrust, inefficiencies, and chaos before the situations became public.

When the NFL still had control over the situation, they should have:

  • Found out the facts
  • Got everyone to sign non-disclosure agreements that had access to the video
  • Held a press conference about Rice’s suspension only disclosing what’s necessary, noting that he will be receiving the help that he needs.

What else can you think of that an organization can keep in mind for a crisis?

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Author: Cassandra Williams

Public relations and marketing professional. Subscribe to share my journey to fulfilling my dreams as a marketing and public relations professional.

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