“Reputational foul…inconsistent messaging…on the commissioner…15 yards”

By | September 7, 2014

As one of the world’s largest non-profit trade organizations, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell plays the role of CEO and as chief executive, it is crucial to have consistent messaging from the brand’s voice. And right now, the NFL has a messaging problem.

Before the first 1:00 p.m. kickoff of 2014 this Sunday, the league has already created plenty of offseason noise to rival any stadium setting. Let’s recount some of the major news events across the field:

  • This summer, Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Brown went through an appeals process to overturn his season-long ban with the league for his second failed drug test. The league recently upheld their decision and the public made it clear they were not happy with the decision.
  • Through a similar time window, on July 24, the NFL suspended Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice two regular season games for violating the league’s personal conduct policy for his offseason arrest of domestic abuse; video surveillance shows Rice dragging his unconscious fiancé from an Atlantic City hotel elevator back in February after an altercation between the two.
  • On August 28, Goodell publicly stated his wrongdoing in mishandling the Rice case, more than a month after the initial announcement, as well as changing the NFL’s policy on domestic abuse – six games for a first offense, a full season for the second.
  • On August 31, San Francisco defensive lineman Ray McDonald was arrested for domestic violence and faces the new penalty of the revised NFL policy; Consequently, ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter tweeted out these choice words:

As if there was ever good timing for domestic abuse

Even with these unfortunate events occurring over the last two months, the NFL utilizes a defense strategy that’s so maddeningly simple to deflect long-term scrutiny: football will continue to be played, generating enough revenue and attention to detract from its internal issues.  Even if the most popular sport in the U.S.continues to expand its fan base and wallet, what are the commissioner’s, and the league’s, message to its stakeholders (specifically its growing female fan base) about its ethics?

Good on Goodell for admitting that he got it wrong the first time around, but it’s still a sack on the league’s reputation, especially as a voice against domestic abuse, that could’ve been avoided through timelier action. As a “CEO,” he not only needs to penalize such egregious activity, but he also needs to create a league culture where this type of behavior is simply unacceptable.

The scoreboard still favors the NFL in the eyes of its rabid fans, but its reputational score could use some strategic play-calling from its commissioner in setting its message straight on doing what’s right.

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