The NFL, once a PR and marketing juggernaut, is looking a bit vulnerable. Guilty of bungling the Ray Rice domestic violence narrative, and blind-sided by Adrian Peterson’s indictment for abusing his four-year-old son, the flagship of America’s professional sports leagues is listing badly, if not taking on water. So what can we learn from this behemoth’s mistakes?

Be transparent. Be genuine. Be substantive. But most of all, be proactive as opposed to reactive.

When video of Ravens’ running back Ray Rice dragging his unconscious then-fiancée out of a casino elevator surfaced, it looked bad. For a league that actively courts female fans (and decks out its players in pink every season to raise awareness for the Komen Foundation), this was a bad, bad scene. How was it managed? A tasteless press conference “apology” was set up and Rice’s victim apologized for her role (really bad). Then, after much speculation and discussion, a League suspension of two games was deemed sufficient. This is the message you are going to send to your female fans?

Then, the NFL commissioner claimed he had not seen the footage when he made the ham-fisted ruling. How does the most powerful league, really more of a corporation, not have access to a video that TMZ was able to procure? Hastily, and in reaction to the video’s release, Mr. Rice was thrown overboard.
Now, everyone publicly debates the matter. What is missing, however, is dialogue about what was missing in how this was handled. Transparency and substance. Perhaps enforcement of a real domestic violence policy? The NFL should have immediately drawn a line in the sand and publicly come clean with simple statements like “Here’s what we know, here’s when we found out, here’s what we won’t tolerate, and here’s what we are going to do to enforce our standard.”

Tell the truth. Be clear about your stance. Support words with action. That’s what needed to be done.
For more thoughts on crises communication, contact Arco & Associates.


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