NFL: An Insult to Women

In the face of the worst crisis to confront the NFL in its 94 years of existence, commissioner Roger Goodell held a much-anticipated news conference last Friday and for 45-minutes…said nothing. While the media and women’s organizations and right-minded people everywhere were angered by this performance, some people actually applauded Goodell’s complete lack ofsubstance. I was disappointed, for example, to read a story in the Los Angeles Times in which one person, described as a “crisis PR executive,” was quoted as saying, “I think he (Goodell) held his own pretty well. He deflected appropriately. He was well trained and well prepared from a PR point of view.”

In my view, that quote is an insult to women the world over, as was Goodell’s non-performance. The commissioner went into a bunker and remained hidden from view for nine days, only to emerge on Friday as a rival to Fred Astaire’s tap dancing prowess. 

Groups like the National Organization for Women and sponsors with the deep pockets of Budweiser are seeking leadership, answers and proactivity from Goodell and the NFL. The man may have “deflected” questions for nearly an hour, but he absorbed the stink that comes from this kind of crisis and his kind of cowardice. 

I’ve said this before, but it’s worth repeating, especially for people who “dabble” in crisis management. The crisis the NFL faces is not about domestic violence, per se. The real crisis – what we in the actual crisis management business refer to as the keystone crisis – has to do with the NFL’s total lack of a uniform plan to discipline players who are involved in cases of domestic violence. But let’s not delude ourselves: no matter what proactive program the NFL may come up with to address the issue of domestic violence, it will likely do nothing to curtail it. You need look no further than a plethora of laws on the books against, say, drunk driving, which outlines the penalties for such an offense but does nothing to prevent it.

The NFL should huddle with the players’ union – for that union is key – and come up with a simple game plan that says something like this: if a player is involved in a documented incident of domestic violence and the police and the D.A.’s office get involved to investigate and perhaps prosecute, that player should be suspended from his team until the matter is resolved. Period.

While such a policy may make a player think twice before punching out his wife or girl friend or head-butting her (yeah, that happened, too), it is not designed to stop acts of domestic violence. That’s not the NFL’s job. But it should be the NFL’s job to remove distractions so the games can be played controversy-free. Removing the player until the matter is resolved would remove any such distractions. But more to the point, the NFL should never want to be put into a position of turning their blind side to acts of domestic violence and giving the perception of not caring.

But whatever the new policy may be, it must be a uniform and league-wide policy. Having each of the 32 NFL teams make independent decisions of discipline in such matters – which is pretty much the case now – is a recipe for more crises, especially when you consider that each team could be faced with a decision that might affect the quality of a team’s performance come game day.

As for the press conference, I am not sure which was more egregious: Goodell’s 45-minute pas de deux of deflection, or someone who claims to be a “crisis expert” publicly praising him for a performance that demeans women the world over. In either case, the stench is growing stronger by the day.