NFL has another crisis, which really stems from others it faces

Sports fans, at least, now know that Richie Incognito is anything but anonymous.

He’s all over Twitter ripping into his Miami Dolphins playing partner, Jonathan Martin, a tackle to Incognito’s guard, with crude, threatening and racist comments. We also have learned that Martin, who attended Stanford and has two Harvard grads for parents, is a warm and caring teammate. He left the team with his dignity intact rather than put up with Incognito’s bullying ways any longer.

In a case that shows that millionaire NFL linemen can be as emotionally and professionally mature as high school juniors, the No Fun League has another crisis. Add to it concussions and their possible cover up over the years; injuries that debilitate retired players; and a league-wide criminal rap sheet that now includes a tight end from a recent Super Bowl-winning franchise accused of murder and possibly gun running.

The Dolphins suspended Incognito, but not before in the alternate universe of pro football he was elected to the team’s player leadership committee. Makes one ask the status of those who didn’t make the committee grade.

Listening to ESPN commentators, former players and front-office executives, it’s clear that NFL teams have long endured and looked away from the antics of the good ol’ boys who crack heads for our entertainment every Thursday, Sunday or Monday. It’s also clear that social media — especially Twitter — is the currency that unveils most of the problems and reveals, in just 140 characters or less and a picture or two, what really happens in NFL locker and lunch rooms.

So far, the NFL has let the Dolphins and the NFL Players Association handle this one, but the league and Commissioner Roger Goodell will have to step up soon. Expect new “rules of teammate behavior” to be installed before next season, or sooner.

If I were to walk up to someone on an icy street with a hockey stick in my hands, drop my gloves and punch them, I could expect to be arrested for assault. But in the Alice in Wonderland world of sports, that’s an on-ice “firing up the team.” And when NFL veterans think it’s OK to sock a rookie with a $30,000 dinner bill, that’s just good fun, not grand larceny.

Therein lies a huge credibility gap, cited by many a sports columnist, between the game Goodell and his 32 club owners profess to put on the field and the dark reality of that game and many of those who play or played it.

That’s the NFL’s overall crisis. Broken limbs, torn ligaments, fatal car accidents, murder and bullying are just symptoms of a rotten core. The sooner Goodell and the NFL admit it’s rotten, proscribe new ways and new rules to fix it, the sooner the crisis will ease.

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 Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.


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. Until recently, he was Senior Vice President and Managing Director of Crisis and Reputation Management at Mower, one of the nation's largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agency with nine offices in the Northeast and Southeast. He is now managing partner of Steve Bell Communications LLC.
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