The crisis that is engulfing the NFL is so predictable that it barely holds my professional interest as a crisis manager, and yet, like a large segment of America, I watch it the way you slow down on the highway and watch the mangled wreck of a fatal car crash pushed to the shoulder: horrifying, but riveting nevertheless.
The crisis, for those of you just waking from a coma, deals with the league’s inept and widely inconsistent handling of players involved in well publicized and documented cases of domestic violence and child abuse, and who knows what else.
The most celebrated case involves the Baltimore Ravens’ Ray Rice, who was taped on a hotel’s closed circuit elevator security camera last April hitting his then fiancée and knocking her unconscious. The tape then shows him dragging her limp body part way out of the elevator like a sack of potatoes, and just leaving her lying on the floor without tending to her at all, as her body blocks the elevator doors from closing.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell initially suspended Rice for just two games, but after the tape was released publicly, he changed that to an indefinite suspension. Goodell’s nose-growing explanation was that he hadn’t seen the entire tape before, even though (a) Rice stated that he confessed everything to Goodell soon after it happened, tape or no tape; (b) the facts were documented in a statement Rice gave to police and which became part of the official police report; © the Associated Press has evidence that the entire tape was delivered to the NFL soon after the incident, not five months later as Goodell claims; and (D) the AP also has a telephone recording of someone from the NFL acknowledging receipt of the tape way back when. Looked at another way, an organization that is maniacally obsessed with watching weekly game tapes would have us believe they couldn’t find the time or the interest to watch this one.
Meanwhile, bowing to public pressure, the Ravens have now released Rice from the team. (More on this in a minute).
Adrian Peterson, star running back of the Minnesota Vikings, has been criminally charged with child abuse after he freely admitted hitting his son with a switch, or tree branch, calling it the same sort of punishment he received from his father, and crediting that stern hand with making him the man he is today. In a written statement Peterson said, “I have always believed that the way my parents disciplined me has a great deal to do with the success I have enjoyed as a man.”
The Vikings initially suspended him, but then brought him back in just one week after an embarrassing 30-7 loss to the New England Patriots. But yesterday, also bowing to building pressure from the fans, the media and major sponsors, the team announced Peterson was suspended until the criminal case is resolved.
That, by the way, is exactly what I said the NFL should do in a series of media interviews a few days ago. (You can read or hear some of those interviews
Each of these acts by players constitutes a criminal matter. And while I believe in the important precept of being innocent until proven guilty, that belief does not necessarily mean that a player should be able to clock his girlfriend on Tuesday and play football on Sunday. There must be consequences for such violent behavior. Remember, each player is a role model for kids, too.
Contrary to the belief of some, the NFL’s crisis is
one of domestic violence. The NFL’s crisis is that the league has no uniform game plan on how to handle domestic violence cases. In other words, an organization that has the X’s and O’s of drawn-up game plans in its DNA has so far created no game plan for dealing with such cases. Instead, it has been a crazy quilt patchwork of “punishments” doled out by 32 separate teams, each with its own agenda, and a weak and leaderless commissioner.
Is this anyway to run a football league? No.
This is not rocket science. A simple league-wide mandate, supported by the players’ union, that holds a player accused of a crime (domestic violence is a crime) is suspended indefinitely until the matter is resolved, one way or another, will move the crisis forward swiftly. This removes the commissioner and team owners from having to make obvious decisions that generally are shaded by what’s in their own best interests.
The example I used in one radio interview centered on Michael Vick, the former Atlanta Falcons starting quarterback. A few years ago, Vick was arrested and convicted of not only participating in dog fighting, but of also ruthlessly killing some of his dogs that lost fights. Vick served 23 months in prison. After his release and (presumably) rehabilitation, he won a slot as the starting quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles.
I used the Vick example to make two points: one, animal cruelty should not be a greater crime than domestic violence, and comebacks are possible.
Meanwhile, also as I predicted previously, the NFL players’ union is now appealing the Ray Rice suspension for what amounts to double jeopardy and for “a lack of fair and impartial process” by Goodell and the league. Rice was initially suspended for two games for an act of domestic violence, as I stated earlier, but that punishment was radically changed without any change in the facts of the crime. The union’s position is that Rice cannot be punished twice for the same offense “when all of the relevant facts were available to the employer at the time of the first punishment.” In other words, if the punishment was initially for a two-game suspension, the league or the team can’t suddenly change that to an indefinite suspension when the underlying facts in the case have not changed.
Sadly, the union may have a valid point, and if the union prevails, that will result in an even more convoluted crisis for the NFL.
All of which could have been avoided with a uniform league policy on dealing with domestic violence cases.
And a strong commissioner as a true leader who understands crisis management.