Too Little. Too Late.

Get out in front of a crisis. Or other side controls story.

Get out in front of a crisis.
Or other side controls story.

When is “at all cost” too high a cost? The NFL is finding out. So are other sports.

Once upon a time, it was considered proper to protect the brand first and foremost, from turning a blind eye to being dismissive of accusers to giving slaps on the wrist. The Game was all that mattered, whether it was professional or college.

But times and attitudes shifted. The public now wants people held accountable for acts that offend a sense of propriety. Sports teams and leagues weren’t paying attention as the rules changed, and they were caught off-guard.

The NFL, arguably the most powerful of all the leagues, has been pounded relentlessly. The abuse cases of Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson dominate the national debate. Advocates against domestic violence found a cause and a receptive audience. Big-name advertisers distanced themselves, including Anheuser-Busch, Nike, McDonald’s, Pepsi, Procter & Gamble and Visa. Politicians weighed in. All this was to be expected.

What is surprising was the response by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. He made a some of the right moves:

  • Appointing a former FBI Director to investigate the NFL’s handling of the Rice case.
  • Creating a four-woman panel to strengthen league policies against domestic violence.
  • Appointing as the NFL’s chief Washington lobbyist a female Obama administration official who had helped shape the Violence Against Women Act.
  • Announcing that the NFL is writing big checks help support the National Domestic Violence Hotline and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.

But his actions came late, and that made them seem like afterthoughts. This doesn’t instill confidence.

When Goodell finally broke his silence at a press conference on Friday nearly two weeks after the firestorm erupted, his demeanor was parsed as well as his words: “Rehearsed.” “Lacked sincerity.” “Emotion was fleeting.” “Generic apologies.” “Vague promises ‘to get this right.'”

Bottom line: He violated a fundamental rule of managing any crisis. Get out front so you at least have a chance to control the story. If you don’t, the other side will tell the story for you, and you won’t like the way it turns out.

Will Goodell survive? Maybe. Either way, he’s damaged goods. So is the NFL’s reputation.


“Because Reputation Is Your Most Valuable Asset”

Gillott Communications is a Strategic PR firm. We’re Fixers. Crisis & Reputation Management. Litigation. Media Relations. Crisis Preparation & Training. You can reach Roger Gillott directly at 310-396-8696.

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For a deeper glimpse into our world, see our book on Amazon, “A Lawyer’s Guide to Crisis PR: Protecting Your Clients In & From the Media.”

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