By now NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s Friday news conference on how the league planned to fix its domestic abuse crisis has been parsed and commented on everywhere.
So let’s just take a quick look at why it was almost universally scorned as inadequate.
1. Too much bad blood. By failing to stem the crisis immediately and perform a series of corrective actions within days of Ray Rice’s assault on his fiancé, the league built up bad blood. Call it mojo, PR, anger, MOmentum, whatever. It becomes harder and harder to end a crisis the longer it lived compounding mistakes.
2. Fast isn’t February. Speed is crucial and something the NFL supposedly values, at least on the field. The answers are right there, like a tipped pass, for everyone it seems except the commissioner and his advisers. Domestic abuse happens thousands of times a day. Further, it’s likely that half a dozen new players will face Rice-like accusations between now and the Super Bowl, when Goodell said he’d have a new player code of conduct. This further erodes his credibility and his sense of urgency to fix this problem — which in the end is exactly what everyone’s clamoring for.
3. Only apologize if you mean it. This is a corollary to No. 1. When you face perceptions of wrongdoing, hiding, covering up, even lying, your apology had better be personal as well as professional, and abject. Goodell came across as reluctant and half-hearted. If TMZ can find the Rice video with a phone call, and TMZ’s reporter asks you why you failed to do the same, you’d be best served to have a better answer than looking over the reporter’s head.
4. Enter the lion’s den armed. Goodell ducked the media for 10 days. He hid behind spokespeople. So he had to know the assembled media would be a hornet’s nest. CNN’s Rachel Nichols in particular went for the jugular with fair if intense questions. But the only surprise there was that Goodell seemed unprepared to deal with the questions, which any PR professional could have listed for him before he stood behind the podium. He was woefully unprepared. And if you look at the questions asked, especially by Nichols, they sing of people who were afraid to test Goodell with those questions prior to his news conference.
5. Lead, follow or get out of the way. That 1970s aphorism comes to mind because Goodell has done none of the three. And now, he should get out of the way. Not so a former FBI director whose law firm has NFL ties can investigate; but so an objective third party can restore credibility to the league.
Finally, as we saw in ESPN’s story over the weekend about when the Baltimore Ravens knew about the extent of Rice’s attack, this story isn’t over. That means that these mistakes and many others in the same vein will continue to fester until the NFL wakes up and comes clean. That may require a new commissioner.
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.