CommCore Blog and News

The NFL Doesn’t Know What Type of Crisis It’s Dealing With

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It Was Predicable, It’s Now Flash – Their Hope Is to Make “Chronic”

If NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell intended his Friday mea culpa news conference to put to rest public and media criticism of the league’s policies on player misconduct and domestic violence, he couldn’t have been more wrong. Sports and news media, advocacy groups, NFL players and social media posters were vicious in their post-mortems over the weekend. Embarrassing, inept, and a joke were among the kinder judgments. Comedians had a field day over the weekend lampooning the Commissioner.

From our vantage point, the one thing he did right was state clearly that the league’s confused, contradictory and slow response to Ray Rice beating his wife was his fault. But after taking personal responsibility, it was all downhill from there:

  • If transparency is your goal, don’t wait ten days and then schedule a news conference for late on a Friday afternoon. Every journalist knows that’s “Take out the Trash” time when subjects hope bad news will be lost in the mainstream newspapers’ and TV news’ end of-week and weekend news cycles. That’s not how you get on the good side of the media to begin with. And – oops – someone must have forgotten that the NFL plays its games on Sundays, meaning the late Friday news conference was fresh grist for the mill on weekend football talk and NFL pre-game shows.
  • Don’t make broad promises like “We’ll get this right,” and then dodge every substantive question from reporters. As one columnist wrote, “Goodell sounded like a congressional candidate worried about opinion polls, and even looked down at his notes when he declared, ‘I will be held accountable.’ Who reads that stuff off a card?”
  • By brushing off the repeated questions of a respected female reporter who challenged Goodell’s side-stepping of the issues, Goodell turned Rachel Nichols into a media hero.

What could Goodell and the NFL have done better? CommCore counsels our crisis clients as follows:

  • Know what type of crisis you are facing – Flash, Predicable or Chronic. We suggest that the NFL issue was a predicable crisis, but we’ll say the Ray Rice video made it a “flash” crisis. The NFL wants to move the issue from the front to the simmer burner, aka a chronic crisis. It won’t go away for a long time and won’t really simmer down until after the 2015 Super Bowl unless more embarrassing revelations surface in the meantime.
  • When you are broadsided by bad news that has gone public and viral, don’t wait days to respond. Even if you are unsure what to say, issue an immediate holding statement that expresses (as appropriate) either regret, remorse, concern, empathy and the intention to get to the facts without damaging your position.
  • Be prepared to answer or at least acknowledge the tough questions that a live news conference will likely bring up.
  • Don’t be an evasive politician when speaking out on an emotional issue that has the country in an uproar. Show sincere emotion and feeling without being overly dramatic. It’s about reputation, credibility, dignity and a desire to get to the truth and fix the problem.
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