Two days ago, few thought the Ray Rice domestic abuse scandal would cause the NFL additional pain and embarrassment. But it is doing just that.
Yesterday more facts came out. A New Jersey criminal investigator told the Associated Press that he’d sent the full video of Rice beating up his then fiancé in a casino elevator to the NFL’s offices five weeks ago.
NFL worker bees suddenly scoured the office for the hot DVD, but spokespeople say no one saw it. A voicemail from the NFL to the investigator, however, confirms receipt.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who went on national TV to counter the perception he’s soon going to be looking for a job, asked former FBI Director Robert S. Mueller to investigate the whole mess. That’s a big-time escalation.
For a multitude of reasons, the NFL fumbled this one from the start. And the sign of a runaway crisis is when facts come out that make your leaders sound like liars. On Monday, the NFL said it had never seen the full video of Rice cold clocking Janay Palmer. Two days later, it appears that was incorrect.
The Watergate mantra emerges: “What did they know and when did they know it?”
This is the nightmare scenario for crisis managers. Getting all the facts out as fast as possible is a first step in handling a crisis properly. In this case, facts have dribbled out, many of them not under the NFL’s control; which leaves NFL leaders looking clueless, confused and discredited.
And, the crisis continues heading toward a growing disaster.
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.