Guilty or not, Aaron Hernandez adds to NFL’s bad reputation and builds its crisis


As sports columnist Jerry Sullivan notes so forcefully today, the NFL has another major problem in the ongoing crisis of player behavior and his name is Odin Lloyd.

Never heard of him? That’s the point. New England Patriots star tight end Aaron Hernandez [below] — whom the Pats released yesterday after his arrest — is accused of Lloyd’s murder.

[Much-less publicized was the arrest of Cleveland Browns’ rookie linebacker Ausar Walcott for attempted murder after a fight outside a New Jersey nightclub at 3 a.m.]

And the list goes on, for hundreds of names over the years.

The NFL, its commissioner and its teams, owners, coaches, GMs and players have related and egregious crises cascading. Concussions. Violence. Criminal charges. Performance enhancing drug use. A racist team name.

It seems almost Pollyannaish that the NFL held a three-day series of meetings and seminars in Cleveland this week for rookies to teach and warn them into the league and educate them about the challenges and enticements of a high-profile athlete’s life.

The No Fun League’s inability to stem these crises will ultimately undermine its credibility and fan base. More than a decade ago, the NBA had a similar reputation. Through a series of hard decisions, education and high standards that’s all but disappeared.

The NFL seems to an outside observer like Rome before the Huns attacked. It’s crumbling from within and seems gloriously un-self-aware. Franchise value is up; attendance is up; TV ratings and money hit new heights; the NFL rules.

And the apologists will enable and rationalize. Sullivan makes the point that people will say that out of 1,696 NFL players there are bound to be a few bad actors. Statistically speaking, that might be correct.

But here’s why their behavior and mistakes are out-sized compared to that general population: These players are marketed as the elite, the strongest, fastest, smartest, richest members of an exclusive gladiator society most people could only dream of joining.

They’re Navy SEALs, but supposedly without the guns.

And they are ESPN’d, over-covered, hero worshipped and pandered to from grade school. That places them in the spotlight, accrues to them benefits and breaks the average person never attains. And that formula should add up to the highest-possible standards of behavior.

Only in the NFL is a religious do-gooder like Tim Tebow — ironically the QB who threw to Hernandez in college at Florida — held up as an example of character and fortitude. And only in the NFL is Tebow kept around despite his obvious lack of competency for the pro game, in part because of his positive character traits. He’s at the other end of the continuum from Hernandez in more ways than one.

Do we see homicide charges in golf, baseball, basketball, Olympic sports, international soccer, bowling, lacrosse? Even hockey, for its allowed on-ice assaults, has relatively few criminal acts off it. Do we see doctors, architects, non-profit executives, politicians, lawyers, sales people, IT stars — many of whom also received ample advantages — accused of murder? Sure, now and then. But not multiple times in a year.

The system is broken. And until everyone who has a part in perpetuating it faces up to these issues, gives it a lot of thought and long, hard looks, these crises will continue to rot the league from the inside.

The Huns aren’t just at the door, they play in the NFL.

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 at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the Northeast and Southeast. Learn more about EMA at http://www.mower.com. 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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About steveoncrisis

The content is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It comes from Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and as managing editor and editorial page editor at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower and Associates, one of the nation's largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agency with six offices in the Northeast and Southeast.
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