The NFL continues to be battered in the court of public opinion. Last week it was the Ray Rice saga and the “what did NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell know and when did he know it questions.’ This week it is outrage over Minnesota Viking Adrian Peterson who is facing criminal charges for spanking his four-year old son with a wooden stick that left welts. In addition, it is still grappling with bullying in the locker room, players driving drunk and carrying weapons, a lawsuit from concussions, and a drug and steroids policy that some consider outdated. Add to this Dallas Cowboys’ owner, Jerry Jones being sued for sexual harassment. And let’s not forget it is addressing how it will deal with its first openly gay player, Michael Sam.
We know that consumers are outraged and advertisers are beginning to distance themselves slightly from the NFL. Radisson Hotels announced that the chain was suspending its sponsorship with the Vikings over the Peterson case. NFL sponsor, Anheuser-Busch announced its displeasure and concern with the NFL. When sponsors start suspending sponsorships and distance the company from the embattled brand, it means the public relations damage is not being contained but is actually growing.
The NFL’s crisis response has been sadly lacking in dealing with the escalating crisis. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has been largely invisible since he was interviewed last week on CBS and then allegations surfaced that the NFL knew earlier than had been admitted about the Ray Rice video that showed him punching his now wife Janay. The league announced that former FBI Director Robert Mueller was heading an investigation into the Rice controversy and had made some hires to deal with the issue and public policy. Yet in all of this there has been no public face for the NFL in over a week. All announcements have been made via press release.
So what should the NFL do now to calm the storm?
1. If Goodell is compromised from talking during the ongoing Mueller investigation have someone else speak on behalf of the NFL, preferably a female officer. The public expects during a crisis, a brand or company to have a public face addressing the media and currently the NFL has none.
2. Trump the number of senior level female officers within the NFL. There are at least 17 in senior management in the NFL not even counting affiliated organizations. Bringing this to the forefront will help dispel the idea that the NFL is anti-female.
3. Ban Ray Rice from the NFL for life. His actions warrant it and will send a strong message of zero tolerance for domestic violence.
4. Announce new stringent measures to deal with domestic violence and other issues the NFL is facing.
5. Reassure sponsors that there are no other bombshells coming out. If there are, the NFL needs to get out in front and announce them before the media reports them, as well as how it is addressing the issues.
6. Address policymakers and admit mistakes were made and outline what steps have been taken to correct them and ensure such things do not happen again.
7. Apologize to fans for not upholding the standards and values fans expect of the NFL. This should be done through interviews and advertisements.
8. Implement any recommendations the Mueller investigation recommends.
9. Change the corporate culture within the NFL.
10. Replace Roger Goodell with a new commissioner at the end of the season (unless the Mueller investigation proves that he knew of the Rice tape and lied, then terminate him at once) preferably with a high profile female with a clear mandate to clean up the NFL.
The NFL is facing a new public relations crisis weekly and the damage will continue until it takes some strong steps to address the issues directly. This crisis requires a fundamental change in how the NFL has been operating during the crisis. Sponsors and the public demand no less.