In the crisis business, 90 percent of the calls you get come from those already knee-deep in alligators.
It’s therefore so noteworthy and empowering when an organization sees a crisis around the corner, or just works under the assumption and some day something will go wrong, and acts before a crisis hits.
The Kansas City NFL franchise is showing the Washington NFL franchise how to do it better. A crisis averted is less costly to reputation and the bottom line than one that rages for weeks and months.
The D.C. team is in a mess about its nickname. The federal government is pressuring, members of Congress called for a change, and fans everywhere are agreeing that the nickname is racist and has no place in American society. But, and most relevant for this post, the team’s owner and leadership are stonewalling, insisting the name will never change.
The K.C. team looked honestly in the mirror — are you listening Cleveland baseball, Chicago hockey, Atlanta baseball, Florida State football? — and said, ‘we’re next.’
As Adam Teicher wrote in his ESPN blog:
Credit to the Kansas City Chiefs for recognizing that some of the franchise’s traditions are offensive to Native Americans. Rather than bury their heads in the sand and pretend the issue doesn’t exist, as the [D.C. team has] done in Washington, the Chiefs have been proactive in addressing some of the concerns, as the Kansas City Star reports. The newspaper said the Chiefs have recently met with Native American groups in the hope of easing their concerns.
If the nickname and/or game-day traditions offend people, even if that amounts to a small group, an NFL team is obligated to listen and respond. That’s the least any franchise can do for its community and the Chiefs, a powerful force in Kansas City since arriving in 1963, are meeting that obligation.
Beyond that, the issue is a little bit sticky for the Chiefs. No one is claiming the team’s nickname is offensive as [the D.C. team’s], a racial slur. Kansas City’s NFL team was actually nicknamed in honor of Roe Bartle, the Kansas City mayor who worked to bring the team from Dallas more than 50 years ago. Bartle’s nickname was Chief.
But the Chiefs, and their fans, adopted many traditions that could be deemed offensive to Native Americans. Fans at Arrowhead Stadium do the tomahawk chop when the Chiefs score a touchdown. Some wear headdresses to games. A horse named Warpaint rides the field before kickoff. The Chiefs beat a war drum before games.
These rituals are part of the game-day experience now for Chiefs fans. Efforts to ban them from Arrowhead Stadium would undoubtedly be met with great resistance and, probably, eventual failure. So the Chiefs also need to tread lightly or risk stirring some serious anger among their paying customers.
There are multiple nuances herein, but the lesson is clear. If you see a crisis looming, don’t wait. Do the right thing. Be proactive. Make changes. Take responsibility and reach out to ease the crisis.
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.