How the NFL Can Uphold its Image After the Abuse Headlines End

by Tunheim on September 22, 2014

NFL Ray Rice Adrian PetersonThe NFL is clearly in a crisis when it comes to handling players and allegations of domestic violence and child abuse. In the last two weeks, the word “NFL” has been shared on social media with either “abuse” or “violence” on average 126,000 times per day.

Attention was first focused on the issue back in February, when the initial video of Ray Rice and his then fiancé, Janay, aired on televisions across the country. The incidents that followed in September drew even more attention to the NFL and its apparent issue with abuse.

Moving forward with intent to uphold one of America’s favorite pastimes

Domestic violence and child abuse are criminal acts, yet initial punishments to the two high-profile players were regarded as being too lenient. It wasn’t until the outcry from the public and sponsors that the league escalated sanctions.

Sure, domestic violence and child abuse are not the NFL’s problems exclusively. But the exposure of these issues within the NFL are the reason for the backlash; it’s the reason sponsors have or threatened to drop players and the NFL as a whole, and why here at Tunheim, there have been a variety of opinions expressed. Our collective thoughts below address recommended approaches on how the NFL should move forward, upholding its brand in the eyes of sports fans, women, children and the public:

  • No more knee-jerk reactions, take the time to get it right — Natalie Wires, consultant
    In the age of social media, it’s easy for a company or brand to get overwhelmed by the negativity in the press and on social sites. This results in quick decisions to fire a CEO, suspend a player or make some other large declaration that isn’t directly related to solving the issue at hand. This is shortsighted both by the decision-makers and the fans — who head to social media to demand an immediate response. Real change takes time and deliberation, and even a mistake, before really getting it right. Discussing and implementing real changes that will address the culture of domestic abuse within the NFL (and throughout society) is a large task.
  • Apologize, publicly, to regain confidence — Don Hill, ACE 
    Adrian should be interviewed by a child psychologist on television and be queried on his behavior, his response to the court charges, his apology for being wrong about raising his kids, and accept the decisions of the league and the Vikings. Same goes for Rice, but with the focus on domestic abuse. Their defense and admission of wrongdoing is to regain the confidence of the public.
  • Find the root of these issues — Paula Wright, senior consultant 
    Beyond the policies and handling, the NFL really needs to look at the reason players in this sport are often violent – is it the culture, the training, their upbringing, or the number of times they’ve been hit in the head (it’s been proven that short tempers are common after multiple concussions). They need to find the root of the issues as well as how to handle them when they happen.
  • Create family support programs — Carl Levi, ACE
    The NFL, and any sports league smart enough to be proactive, should be looking at building out comprehensive family support programs for current and past athletes. They need to regain trust and provide effective solutions. It’s time to for the league to step up with family resources, life coaches, councilors, post-playing transitioning and medical programs.
  • Broaden the conversation — Owen Truesdell, consultant
    The NFL would be well served to reach out to the NCAA and high school football groups to broaden the conversation. This isn’t an NFL problem, it’s a problem that spans sports. Setting expectations in high school and college — where there are thousands of stories similar to Rice’s that don’t get this kind of media attention — would help the NFL in the long run. That outreach would help deflect a bit of criticism away from themselves while taking a leadership role on the issue.
  • Actually invite women to the conversation — Danielle Pierce, consultant 
    Boycotting the league is not practical — removing critical thinkers from the conversation and walking away won’t resolve or put in motion true change. And honestly, I wouldn’t want that anyway. I look forward to every Sunday, sitting in front of the television from noon until 10 p.m. witnessing both glorious, athletic prowess and completely insane moments. But as Katie Nolan from Fox Sports eloquently stated, until the league gives women a real seat at the table — the table, “and not where their presence is a gimmick” (I’m looking at you Michelle Beadle and your Jackson Pollack polls) — we won’t be considered a part of the conversation — ever. The NFL covets us in every other way — tickets, marketing and merchandise dollars, fantasy inclusion, etc. We make up 45 percent of the fan base, and yet while 85 percent of domestic violence victims are female, we continue to look to Boomer and all the usual suspects for an opinion.
  • Act with intention and authenticity — Erin Jones, junior consultant
    The fact that the NFL has vocalized their placement of four women on their executive board has me questioning their motives. To me, it seems inauthentic. It paints the picture that the NFL is simply concerned with being politically correct, rather than genuinely concerned. Although their motives and concern for domestic and child abuse in America may in fact be genuine, the actions that they have executed in the past two weeks have not demonstrated that to be true.
  • Implement a blunt, but trusted board of sponsors — Pat Milan, senior consultant and chief creative officer
    I think most organizations lose their way in these big, ugly and disastrous moments. The “insiders” are typically only talking to each other and their attorneys. They lose all sense of scale, scope and severity and make big judgments based on bad emotional swings. At a minimum, every organization should have an outside group of partners (a nonofficial board) comprised of people who are known for telling it like it is. In this case, the Vikings and every sports organization could simply create a crisis panel made up of sponsors. Had this panel existed and participated, the Wilfs would have heard all the air leave the room when Radisson, Nike and Anheuser Busch weighed in.
  • Put policies in place — Kris Jensen, ACE
    If the NFL (or the Vikings, for that matter) made decisions regarding Rice and Peterson based on clearly established criteria, they would be insulated from emotional decision making. But the time to determine those criteria is not during the storm. They should have already had a policy that would clearly define how the league or team will respond to these types of situations and relied on that policy to guide them.
  • Implement an ethics clause in every contract — Lou Ann Olson, senior consultant
    If they already have one, then it needs to be talked about, tightened and enforced.
  • Reprimand players consistently across the league— Josie Warren, consultant
    Some players are suspended as soon as they’re arrested, some when they’re charged, some not until the legal process is fully complete — and it’s all subjective. Chris Cook got suspended without pay as soon as he gets arrested — but the number one running back in Vikings history doesn’t? So much of what we’re seeing now is the impact of that lack of consistent framework, coupled with favoritism and preference to the big-name players, as well as the head-in-the-sand attitude of the NFL, that’s blowing up in its face.
  • Accept the position of a leader — Ryan Splawski, consultant
    The NFL needs to wake up and realize that it needs to be a leader. Not just as a sports organization, but as an organization that heavily impacts and affects culture and water-cooler conversation at work and at home. It needs to showcase compassion for more than kosher issues and it needs policies that protect and support its players and families, as well as transparent policies that have a clear result of a negative action. The NFL needs to act as an advocate for all of its fans and players — not a select few.
  • Be transparent — Noelle Hawton, senior consultant
    The NFL should look to the Catholic Church for how not to handle decisions going forward. Both organizations are made up of a rarefied group that have historically made decisions in a mysterious, cloistered way. If more dings on players and the league continue, these episodes will eat away at the organization’s credibility. Transparency should be their mantra.

Without taking these necessary steps to rectify an already convoluted situation, the NFL could be facing much more than low ratings, like the questions it’s already receiving from Congress. This isn’t the first time that we’ve looked at PR blunders in 2014. Check out previous blunders we identified this year.

What do you think the NFL should do to ensure it doesn’t further alienate its fan base?

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: