As a recovering publicist, I tend to look at situations from a different perspective than others in the media. For example, I am not at all bothered by non answers of players and coaches, but instead, I am impressed by the excellent media coaching that keeps a large group on message. On the flip side, I am extremely critical when avoidable situations became all out disasters. My first response is almost always to find a new PR firm or staff when such blunders occur, but in the case of Roger Goodell and the NFL, the client needs to be fired.
At the very least, there should be a mutual split because the NFL wastes any money spent on league public relations. This is not at all a knock on the staff or contracted firms. It is a knock on the NFL for spending money on something it has no intention of using. Publicists are paid to create strategies and responses that show their clients in the best possible light, and there is no way the handling of domestic violence, child abuse, concussions, etc., etc., etc., follows the advice of experts. The only explanation for the botched responses by the league and its commissioner is that they ignored the plans of the pros.
To his credit, Goodell’s “Because I said so” and “Do as I say, not I as do” strategies convey clear concise messages, but no company succeeds with “We don’t get it” or “We do, but just don’t care.”
“We don’t get it” played out on Thursday Night Football as the result of the long running “Because I said so.” While most organizations search desperately for feel good stories to divert attention from the unpleasant and to remind the public they are not all bad, the NFL took its opportunity to showcase additional blunders.
Devin Hester breaking his mentor Deon Sanders’ all-time return record in the place and uniform Prime Time started his career should have put the focus back on the field and the good that occurs off. We should be seeing a digitally enhanced promo of side-by-side Atlanta Falcons high stepping to the Georgia Dome end zone celebrating hard work, dedication, and the power of role models.
Should is the key word in that statement as Hester was flagged for his high step homage to Sanders. A show of respect and appreciation to the one who came before him earned Hester a 15 yard taunting penalty. First of all, no one was being taunted, and if the officials are not aware enough to realize that, the NFL has bigger issues than their attempt to take all emotion out of the game.
Of course, the NFL does have bigger issues, but they all seem to point to the top. The NFL and Roger Goodell have hidden behind unreasonably strict penalties and punishments to either further agendas, or they are out of touch with society and their own players.
Most likely both are helping to further project “We don’t get it.”. Penalizing and/or fining defensive players for hits to the head initiated by offensive players, i.e. D.J. Swearinger and Wes Welker, exemplifies the league giving the appearance of caring about players’ health, when they are really giving another advantage to the offense. Why would they do such a thing, you ask? Offense puts butts in seats, and a defensive battle is seen by many as boring.
Cracking down on the defense to “clean up” the game creates more offense and attempts to erase the memory of Goodell’s testimony to Congress that the NFL had no idea there were side effects to repeated blows to the head. Who can forget “Bountygate” and the lost season of the New Orleans Saints? Commish had no problem handing out hefty suspensions for players and coaches stating, “Ignorance is not a defense.”
Goodell’s iron fist on any show of on-field excitement furthered the illusion of the aforementioned “clean up” until the facade began to crumble with the colossal mishandling of the Ray Rice domestic violence case.
Enter phase two of the Goodell PR plan, “Do as I say, not as I do.” A publicist helps to craft the message sent to the public, but they also prepare clients with any possible questions that may come up in a press conference. So, when a reporter raised the question why shouldn’t he be punished for his ignorance in the Rice situation after he gave Sean Payton a year-long “Bountygate” suspension, Goodell theoretically should have been prepared with solid answers or at least viable deflections. Instead, he came armed with, “Because I acknowledged my mistake. August 28th, I said: “we didn’t get this right.” We’re going to make changes and are making those changes. We have a lot more work to be done but we’re moving in a very important direction by getting expertise to say how do we do this better? We’re all as a society having difficulty being able to deal with this.”
Yes, domestic violence, victim blaming, and devaluing women are societal issues, and Goodell essentially used the “everyone else is doing it” excuse in defense of the NFL’s participation in each. The option to redirect blame has been off the table since Goodell elevated himself to judge and jury. In other words, that excuse did not work on any of our mother’s, and it is certainly not working on any of us now.
No one blames Goodell or the NFL for Rice, Greg Hardy, Ray McDonald, Adrian Peterson, or any other player’s actions, they blame them for the callous disregard for the victims and any perception of impropriety in handling the situations. Once again, the cover up ALWAYS makes the crime worse.
I find my publicist self yelling at the television for someone to stop Goodell and owners like Steve Bisciotti when defending themselves to the media. They have actually taken the focus off Rice and made themselves appear worse than before. From the beginning the NFL and the Ravens have said that Rice was honest with them, so why was video evidence necessary? “We did not see the tape” equates to “It did not matter until you saw the tape,” and it drives home the message “We get it. We just don’t care”
Goodell’s plan is no longer acceptable to the public, but more importantly, sponsors. Unfortunately for him, he has missed too many opportunities to repair his image. As for the NFL, re-branding is in order, but if you are not going to listen to the advice of experts, may I suggest restructuring your PR department as a non-profit? You may then find a way to right-off public relations expenses as charitable contributions for the mental and physical health care the staff including but not limited to treatment of the following: anxiety, heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure, migraine headaches, depression, and complete mental break.
Yes, the publicist in me cringes, but the media member in me appreciates Roger Goodell and the NFL showing where they really stand, especially when they think we are not smart enough to figure it out. The part of me that loves football knows its time for a new strategy that protects all aspects of the game and ALL of those affected by it, instead of one that seeks only to protect image of the shield.
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