Sunday, October 4, 2015

NFL proves that a scandal is difficult to tackle

Ethan Felderstein

Ray Rice and his wife Janay Rice sat in a jam-packed press conference at the Baltimore Ravens facility, just days removed from an event that shocked the NFL world.

As the two spoke, the Ravens' official Twitter account was live-tweeting along—a common practice for professional sports organizations nowadays.

They sent out this:

Screenshot via 

The tweet, which was deleted shortly thereafter, generated a fire-storm of criticism and backlash towards the organization. The team was called "tone deaf" and it soon came out that the team gave the two a 'general script' for the press conference. 

The Ray Rice incident is just one example in a wide-range of scandals that went incredibly wrong for the NFL and it's teams. 

How could the NFL, arguably the most popular sports league in the planet, go so wrong handling a public relations issue? 

The PRSA gives three pieces of advice on handling such an issue in the reading "Follow the Leader: Ethics and Responsibilities."

1) Knowing your role 

This section gives up this great point about about what a public relations practitioner is supposed to do within the organization: 
One of a CEO’s most important jobs is to create, foster and communicate the culture of the organization. They can do this through words and through actions. The PR practitioner’s job is to communicate the message and explain the culture — both internally and externally. Wrongdoing or malfeasance rarely occurs in a vacuum. Leaders invariably know when someone is compromising standards.
The NFL puts in their mission statement that their ultimate goal is to uphold respect for their players, teams, and fans. They also claim in their mission statement that "Everything we do has a consequence." 

Did the NFL uphold that statement? Did their public relations professionals spread their message throughout their organization with their flawed handling of the Ray Rice scandal? 
With their questionable decision making, it's easy to say they most certainly did not. 

Image via 

2) Holding people accountable 

This may be the message that most directly applies to the Ray Rice situation. The public relations professional is supposed to look at every party responsible and address them separately with the individual punishment or consequence. 

With the many parties involved, it was assuredly a difficult decision for the NFL, but they got it all wrong. 

The NFL flip-flopped on their suspension of Rice and assigned no punishment to anyone who had prior acknowledgement of the situation, such as Ravens officials. 

3) Creating an ethical environment 

The reading gives the following ways to create and ethical environment: 

  • Reveal the hazards of having lax ethical standards or enforcement, and use examples to highlight your points.
  • Encourage management to set up a “whistleblower line” so that employees can report serious violations anonymously.
  • Suggest bringing in an outside firm to look at standards and practices periodically and indicate any possible vulnerability.
  • Promote the development of a clear set of standards and practices that the organization can convey and post on its website.
The biggest standout here is the "whistleblower line". There was no standard for accountability here within the organization or the team.

The NFL has no real history of correct enforcement in their rules, though. So, when you can set no examples, there is no real precedent that they could set.

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