NFL Crisis Communication Plan: 3 Steps to Good Ethics and Leadership in Crisis Management and Communications

goodell whatever

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell

By Gerard Braud

Crisis management requires having a written plan that can be followed in every crisis in order to manage both the crisis and the behavior of the decision makers. The written plan helps insure good crisis communications can take place because there will be honest and ethical leadership.

What is honest, ethical leadership in a crisis? Good, ethical behavior is doing in private what you would do if the entire world were watching and listening.

The NFL crisis is embattled by the same type of discussions that likely took place at Penn State during their child abuse scandal. Usually, a bunch of old white guys – yes I said it – gather in a room and all say, “If people find out about this we’re in big trouble. If people find out about this, our reputation will be ruined. If people find out about this, we’ll lose boat loads of money.”

The group usually goes on to make decisions designed to hide the facts from the world as a way to protect their reputation and revenue.

This is always the wrong way to manage a crisis.

The group should be saying, “If we don’t come clean and tell the world about this we will be in big trouble. If we don’t act honestly, our reputation will be damaged. If we enact real change, we can seek forgiveness and repair our reputation and revenue. If we get this wrong, our reputation and revenue will be more damaged than if we hide the truth.”

The institution must end the crisis and not kick the can down the road. The correct way for any institution or company to protect their reputation and revenue is to end the crisis by doing the right thing the first time. This means:

1) Letting the world know the full extent of what you have uncovered in your investigation

2) Punishing those who are at the root of the crisis

3) Announcing steps to keep it from happening again.


Roger Goodell and the NFL:

1) Only let the world know part of what happened and likely hid facts they knew

2) Handed down a punishment based on the world not knowing the full truth about Ray Rice

3) Are now announcing steps to give money to groups who advocate against domestic violence.

Domestic violence is not the crisis at hand in the NFL. The crisis is denial, arrogance, and bad ethics by the people responsible for leading the NFL.

Yes, domestic violence is an issue for some players, but so is womanizing, drinking, drugs, DUI, getting in car wrecks, theft, dog fighting, and even murder. The players in the NFL are a representation of the population at large and the NFL can only do so much to raise awareness about all of these issues.

Ray Rice isn’t the first player guilty of domestic violence and will not be the last. The NFL didn’t throw money at domestic violence prevention in the past. So why now? The NFL is trying to distract us from the truth and the failure of the people who failed to be good, ethical leaders.

The people running the NFL are still not getting it right. In fact, they are making their wrong worse.

If my suspicions are true, more truth will come out about what the NFL did and didn’t know. As the truth comes out, credibility will be lost and the institution’s reputation will be further damaged, with a slow erosion of revenue each day the crisis lingers. Some revenue loss will come from the sponsors who pull out. Some revenue loss will come from fans who don’t buy tickets or merchandise.

The NFL must do what all institutions should do from the beginning:

1) Tell the truth

2) Punish not just the players, but the guilty executives as well

3) Announce steps to make sure bad decision-making doesn’t happen again

Suspending Roger Goodell is still a viable option. It needs to be done swiftly in the name of crisis management and ethics.