Latest NFL mess: Ray Rice suspension mocks domestic abuse punishment

Call it the No Fun League, or the biggest of all the sports giants, this side of futbol, but the NFL just can’t seem to get it right — as it adds another crisis to its unending list.

It’s almost like it’s either immune to public opinion, or has gotten so used to cashing billion-dollar checks that it just doesn’t care.

One of its teams uses a racist nickname; players seem to show up more in crime lineups than scorecards; the game itself is so violent that federal judges can’t find a ceiling for how much money damaged-for-life players should receive in compensation for their injuries; one of its most prominent team owners was arrested on suspicion of drug possession; the tight end of the league’s showcase team, the New England Patriots, stands accused of multiple murder; and now the NFL suspended Baltimore Ravens All-Pro running back Ray Rice for two games for punching his girlfriend in the head and knocking her out.

Are you kidding me? If  you or I did that, we’d go to jail — or should. If our employer found out about it, we’d be lucky to retain our job. Sure, Rice will forfeit more salary than most of us make in a year, but this is an affront to society, to abused partners everywhere and an ongoing crisis for the NFL.

This is how Mike Freeman characterized it on bleacherreport.com.

The message here is clear: Ladies, we like that you watch football. We like that you buy NFL merchandise. We love that you give us your money, but if one of our players punches you in the face, well, hell—sorry, but you are on your own, homegirl. This is yet another signal that the NFL doesn’t care nearly enough about domestic violence. This may be the best signal yet.

Donald Sterling made racist comments and the NBA took away his team. Ray Rice punches out his girlfriend in an Atlantic City casino elevator, drops her unconscious on the floor outside, and he rides the bench for two hours. Like everything else, there’s security camera videotape. You can’t make up this stuff.

And this isn’t about Rice, or his now wife, Janay. It’s about the NFL and it’s penchant for saying one thing and doing another. Isn’t that called hypocrisy? The NFL has so many raging crises Commissioner Roger Goodell must have to take off his shoes and socks to count them all.

Michael Powell, writing today in The New York Times, summed it up:

Here comes Commissioner Roger Goodell. The tousle-haired commissioner is a football lifer, having spent his career inside the N.F.L., which is another way of saying he knows from psychotic behavior. He has dealt with large men and their brandished pistols, their assault rifles, their beat-downs, their accidental shootings and their many and varied misbehaviors. A few years ago, he dealt with Ben Roethlisberger, the star quarterback and toast of the Pittsburgh Steelers, who was accused of what sounded a bit like rape in a bar. Goodell suspended him four entire games.

Vacations are hard to come by for Goodell. Last season the commissioner had a real headache. Aaron Hernandez, the New England Patriots’ Pro Bowl tight end, stood accused of shooting bullets into the chest, stomach and head of three people, all of whom are dead. The Patriots quickly released Hernandez for, among other malefactions, conduct detrimental to the N.F.L. Technically, Hernandez remains a free agent, but that’s a word drained of some meaning, as he’s being held in jail without bail.

On and on it goes.

Goodell, in a letter to Rice that was released by the league, tried to clamber onto the closest approximation of high ground. “The league is an entity that depends on integrity and in the confidence of the public, and we simply cannot tolerate conduct that endangers others or reflects negatively on our game,” he wrote. “This is particularly true with respect to domestic violence.”

Then, big softy that he is, the commissioner went misty-eyed.

“I believe that you are sincere in your desire to learn from this matter,” he wrote to Rice, “and move forward toward a healthy relationship and successful career.”

If I were to call Mary Travers Murphy, head of Buffalo’s Family Justice Center, I know what she’d say. She’d say it’s a setback for all victims of domestic abuse. She’d say it gives permission to abusers. She’d say it trivializes a crime that strikes every community, in every demographic, city, suburb, or rural. And she’d say, shame on you NFL.

And then you know what else she’d say — being the practical and determined advocate she is? She’d tell the Ravens to contribute Rice’s two games’ salary to her counterpart in Baltimore. And do it fast.

The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs and Crisis and Reputation Management at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the East. Learn more about EMA at mowerpr.com/crisisready. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.

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Assorted world crises and how leaders responded to them, good and bad

Sitting back and observing over the last few weeks, here are some observations about a few major crises:

When President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin talked on the phone last Thursday, Putin employed a basic crisis tenant. He broke the bad news to Obama about the Malaysian airliner shot down over Ukraine. While Putin was reportedly incomplete with his facts, he at least followed the rule that if there is bad news to release, you should be the one to release it.


That’s, again, just an observation. Putin obviously did not end the crisis, failing to take responsibility, apologize, talk about how it would not happen again or get all the facts out. But interesting nonetheless that he even admitted the crash to Obama.

On a similar global stage, the Israeli artillery barrage that killed four young cousins on a beach in Gaza last week was just the most recent horror from that region, where some 500 Palestinians and Israelis have died in two weeks of fighting.

In terms of crisis management, you had to read between the lines on this one. Israel rarely publicly admits mistakes. [Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised a thorough investigation of the murder of a Palestinian teen-ager that was seen as a revenge killing for the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli boys precipitating the current crisis.] But, in the beach bombardment, the Israeli authorities issued a terse statement saying the situation would be investigated and reviewed. In government speak that as much as admits guilt.

The final international crisis that’s been prominent in recent weeks is the influx to America of mainly young children from Central America. This flow from poor to wealthy areas generated an array of reactions. Some residents of border towns angrily denounced federal efforts to house the children in their border towns. Other officials, heeding Obama administration requests, offered emergency shelter, as did Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick.

The Obama administration has been slow to react and ineffective in solving the problem. While Congress failed to pass meaningful legislation reforming immigration law, this crisis has festered for months, absent effective management.

Obama neglected, in a recent visit to Texas, to go to a scene of the problem and discuss it openly. He didn’t take responsibility and didn’t set a clear path to a solution. Though he did meet with Texas Republican Gov. Rick Perry, his antithesis. Points for that.

And so it goes…

The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs and Crisis and Reputation Management at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the East. Learn more about EMA at mowerpr.com/crisisready. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.

 

 

 

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Hillary Clinton tries to handle campaign crises now, months in advance

Former U.S. Senator, Secretary of State and First Lady Hillary Clinton knows a thing or two about crisis.

From Lewinsky to Benghazi, from health-care reform to her husband’s heart attack, she’s seen it all — and that doesn’t include Iraq, Afghanistan, al Qaeda or Carl Rove.

As the presumed Democratic frontrunner for the 2016 presidential nomination sizes up her prospects, she’s written a new book and is making the requisite rounds of network and cable television interviews.

Hard Choices – for scholars, journalists and voters — is an account of her Obama administration years. For many, she was an effective and well-traveled secretary of state. But for crisis managers, the book is one, big, proactive, crisis management exercise.

Why? Watch if she’s on the defensive in presidential debates how many times Clinton says, “Oh, that’s all in the book;” or, “I’ve covered that in far greater detail in my book;” or, “I said all I am going to say about that in the book.”

The relevant codicil in crisis management is that if you don’t say something about yourself and the crisis, your critics will be the only ones judging you. The flip side of that is, if you get out and say what you want about a crisis first, then you frame the debate, put your version of the facts out first and you make your critics attack the “popular wisdom,” you created.

Clinton has decades of experience in this game. She may come off as coy about whether she’ll run, but 688 pages of crisis management say she will.

The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs and Crisis and Reputation Management at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the East. Learn more about EMA at mowerpr.com/crisisready. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.

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Times’ crisis over Abramson will continue to boil until Sulzberger comes clean

Eric Mower + Associates’ crisis and reputation management guru, Peter Kapcio, always emphasized to clients that the damage from a crisis comes not from the severity of the act or the impetus for the crisis, it’s how long it lasts. Or, conversely, how fast you can make it go away. Think BP oil spill.

The equation is obvious, but too often ignored. Dribbling out information, or having reporters pry it out, week after week just multiplies the mess.

New York Times’ Publisher Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr. is doing little to shorten the crisis over his firing of Executive Editor Jill Abramson. That’s a fact highlighted by one of the nation’s most astute media critics, Ken Auletta, a former New York Post, Daily News and Village Voice reporter now writing for The New  Yorker

“While Sulzberger disparaged Abramson for the way she ran the paper, the Times’ own mishandling of this crisis could be taught at the Harvard Business School as a case study in poor management and worse communications,” Auletta writes. “It is an affair in which neither side behaved well or with any finesse and the institution, which is so central to American journalism, suffered.”

The irony of a crisis inside a media giant is not lost on the business or media worlds that follow such things closely. The Times can publish stories that embarrass Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Citibank and the like, as it should, but when the spotlight it routinely turns on other corporations and their CEOs gets turned back on itself, people pay attention with a lot of zealous satisfaction.

And nothing incites the media crowd more than clear indications that the full story has not been told and that the main protagonist is stonewalling. Abramson’s friends and supporters are weighing in left and right; the Times itself is being exhorted to get to the root of the facts; readers are engaged and aghast.

There’s blood in the water.

One can only imagine how the ruling Sulzbergers, Arthur’s cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews and children feel? He runs the company, but the family controls it.

As I suggested Thursday, after this stunning news broke, Sulzberger needs to sit down with a leading Times’ journalist and answer every question fully, openly and exhaustively. And then do the same for the Washington Post and the Associated Press and any other media who call. Until he does, the wolf pack will continue to circle and howl.

Until all the information is out, the Times‘ crisis will persist and eat away at its reputation.

The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs and Crisis and Reputation Management at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the East. Learn more about EMA at mowerpr.com/crisisready. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.

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New York Times, which creates numerous crises, shows it can’t handle its own

The New York Times, as the nation’s most influential and impactful newspaper, routinely causes a crisis for dozens of people any given day. Its reporting and power unmask wrongdoing, stupidity and greed.

The irony is therefore inescapable that when the Times and Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. found themselves at crisis central yesterday he handled it so poorly.

Sulzberger fired Executive Editor Jill Abramson and replaced her with Managing Editor Dean Baquet. The Times won’t miss a step with Baquet, a Pulitzer Prize winner and now the paper’s first black editor. And by many accounts, Abramson, its first woman editor, had few fans in the newsroom. [Below, from left, Baquet, Abramson and her predecessor, Bill Keller.]

But Sulzberger, scion as he is of the newspaper’s ruling family and a member of Manhattan’s elite since he could crawl, abused every rule of crisis management in presenting his decision and in its aftermath.

He acted petulantly, refused to open up about what happened and why and demonstrated clearly that he was angry and emotional in the process.

Instead of a transparent explanation of the facts and answering questions until the questioners ran out of energy — as he would surely expect the subjects of Times stories to do for its reporters — he blocked and blunted and punted.

“You will understand that there is nothing more I am going to say about this, but I want to assure all of you that there is nothing more at issue here,” Sulzberger told his newsroom. One reporter later Tweeted that reporters and editors were “gobsmacked” by the news. That’s not a very high grade in crisis management circles.

An answer like that from the White House on, for instance, management of foreign policy toward Russia, would result in angry Times editorials about openness and the public’s right to know, followed by op-ed columnists’ spouting ire and outrage.

It adds up to hypocrisy and small-mindedness. Besides, as The New Yorker quickly reported yesterday, there absolutely was “more at issue here.”

The New Yorker reported that Sulzberger and Abramson were at odds recently after Abramson asserted that her pay and pension benefits were less than Keller’s had been in identical roles. The Times disputed this account and said that Abramson’s salary was “directly comparable” to Keller’s.

Sulzberger’s leadership of the Times’ company has long been questioned, including the decision to sell The Boston Globe at a huge loss and the hiring of Mark Thompson as CEO, fresh off a sex scandal on his watch at the BBC.

The opportunity to show transformative leadership and leave a crisis stronger personally and institutionally emerges from producing facts fast, transparently, and answering all the questions multiple times and in multiple forums until there is nothing left to say.

No one is going to rip Sulzberger for saying he replaced the executive editor because he and she disagreed on just about everything and he thought she was doing a poor job managing the newsroom. OK, he’s the boss, that’s his call.

But to pretend, stonewall [ironically the term that emerged from Watergate and the Nixon administration's penchant for saying the obvious truth did not exist] and act in anger only prolongs the leadership crisis. Sulzberger can do as he pleases, but he may not like the reaction.

It’s not too late to try to at least mitigate this mess. Sulzberger should take a deep breath, calm down, suppress his “I am the boss” ego and sit down with a Times reporter and answer every question he or she has. And do so openly, honestly, factually and be self-effacing.

The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs and Crisis and Reputation Management at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the East. Learn more about EMA at mowerpr.com/crisisready. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.

 

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GM’s Barra uses flipside of crisis to accelerate change

As crisis managers everywhere mourn the needless sacrifice of Target CEO Gregg Steinhafel on the altar of failed crisis management, let’s turn to the upside of a crisis: A change accelerator.

The Boston Globe spells out the inherent dangers to CEOs everywhere of the out-of-the-blue crisis like the one that brought down Steinhafel, which is probably why they get multi-million-dollar golden parachutes. But the flip side is that if you can endure and survive the initial hits, you can use a crisis to wake up your organization and use it as a raison d’etre  for more rapid change.

Therefore let’s turn to GM CEO Mary Barra, and a recent story in the Wall Street Journal, in which she says:

 “I see this as an opportunity to accelerate our culture change … We continue to face down every issue we have…and more aggressively pursue every opportunity in a way we haven’t always done.”

GM’s specific crisis was created by a dysfunctional ignition switch that led to the recall of more than one million vehicles, as well as allegations that a dozen people died in accidents as a result of the shoddy work.

There’s nothing like a crisis to force inward examination, re-evaluation of past procedures and decisions and creation of a resolve to fix things. Add to that GM’s emergence from bankruptcy in 2008 and a shiny new CEO and you have a formula for fixing it fast.

“The bankruptcy didn’t fix the silo problem that existed at GM, it didn’t go far enough and it didn’t go low enough to attack that compartmentalize thinking,” Thomas Stallkamp, principal of Detroit-based Collaborative Management LLC, told the Journal. “This [recall] may have had a perverse effect in that she has had to make changes on a faster timetable.”

Barra had to face angry Congress members, media criticism and stockholder anger. You can be sure she’s going to channel that into more changes at GM — in structure, personnel and strategy — than GM has seen in decades.

Crises can have upsides.

The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs and Crisis and Reputation Management at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the East. Learn more about EMA at mowerpr.com/crisisready. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.

 

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Target CEO shows the cost of ineffective crisis management — unemployment

Now, in the form of Target’s CEO, we know [again] the cost of bad crisis management.

President and CEO Gregg Steinhafel lost his job yesterday.

Could anyone have handled Target’s credit card breach effectively? Maybe, maybe not. But that’s not the point. The point is that bad crisis management will ax the CEO. Decent crisis management might keep him or her around. Effective crisis management will make the CEO a superstar.

Look at the sendoff Alan Mulally got at Ford last week. He beat the crisis.

Here’s what the AP reported about Target:

The departure suggests the company is trying to start with a clean slate as it wrestles with the fallout from hackers’ theft of credit and debit card information on tens of millions of customers. The company’s sales, profit and stock price have all suffered since the breach was disclosed.

Otherwise, things are great.

Surely Steinhafel will not be filling out any unemployment insurance forms soon. He’s been with Target for 38 years and he can afford to shop at Tiffany’s, Bergdorf’s and Neiman Marcus if he doesn’t want to walk in to a Target store ever again.

So we won’t cry for him. But let’s look at the mess he and Target suffocated in and what it might have done better. First, it waited way too long to announce a problem. A lot of companies and CEOs don’t want to say they stepped in dog doo. But if they’d announced the hack when they first found out, a lot of people could have avoided problems. Would Target sales have suffered? Yes, but they did anyway and may have suffered worse for the delays.

Next, Target failed to fix the problem. My IT knowledge peaks right before I pick up the phone to call EMA’s IT department. But Target needed to spend the money and fix the problem, yesterday. Instead, it lingered for months.

And, finally, no one stood up — this is for all you CEOs out there — and owned the problem. Why? Because maybe Steinhafel was worried it would cost him his job. Well guess what.

If he’d acted immediately, informed his customers, limited the problem, fixed it and been out front on the fix, the transparency and the speed, he might be enjoying a 40th anniversary with the company.

The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs and Crisis and Reputation Management at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the East. Learn more about EMA at mowerpr.com/crisisready. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.

 

 

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