NFL Crisis ManagementBy Gini Dietrich

At the end of last year’s NFL season, I announced I was quitting football.

It’s really hard to be a Bears fan. My heart hurts after nearly every game.

Mr. D. tries to reason with me, “But they went to the Super Bowl a few years ago.”

They did. And they lost. And I sat on my couch and cried. For a really long time.

Of course, I didn’t really mean I was quitting (my heart was just broken…again), but after what’s happened in recent weeks with the NFL, I think I might be a little more serious about my resignation.

Cardinal Rule of Crisis Management

There is a cardinal rule of crisis management.

It’s to tell the ugly truth as soon as you possibly can so you can be the first to tell the story.

Well, actually, the cardinal rule is “don’t lie,” but telling the truth as quickly as you can follows suit.

The problem with waiting (or, worse, lying), of course, is you allow others to tell your side of the story. And that’s never a good thing.

I’m reminded of Tiger Woods, who hid after his wife came after his car with a golf club.

The media began to speculate: He’s in rehab for sex addition; he’s a drug addict; and myriad of other reasons.

Had he come out, talked about what happened (like David Letterman did around the same time), and told the truth as quickly as possible, there wouldn’t have been a story.

Same thing with the NFL.

Ray Rice vs. Roger Goodell

It’s been reported Ray Rice, in June, admitted to the NFL that he hit his then-fiancee.

This is inconsistent with what Roger Goodell, the NFL commissioner, has said about the disciplinary meeting.

Of course, there are three sides to the store: Goodell’s side, Rice’s side, and the truth.

I’m also a little cynical that Rice would really admit doing what we’ve now all seen him do (and some reports say he admitted to slapping her, not full-on punching her lights out, like the video shows).

From ESPN:

Goodell never said Rice had lied to him at the meeting, but he said that Rice’s “ambiguous” comments were “not consistent with what was on that video. And when we saw that video it was clear what happened.” But a source close to Rice disputed that characterization. “Ray has never tried to hide what he did here,” the source said. “He’s told everyone the truth.”


But if Gooddell and the NFL knew and they lied, they are violating crisis management 101.

An Iconic Brand Will Suffer

With the release of the video that shows Rice knocking her out, the NFL not only suspended him from playing for the Baltimore Ravens, but gave him a lifetime ban from the league.

And then it came out that Ray McDonald—who plays for the San Francisco 49ers— and Greg Hardy—who plays for the Carolina Panthers—and Adrian Peterson—who plays for the Minnesota Vikings—all have been indicted for domestic abuse.

The NFL has a real communications issues on their hands.

The full truth, and nothing but the truth, must be told. Every player must be treated the same (Peterson has been indicted and Rice hasn’t even been charged, for instance).

It’s ugly. No one wants to face it. But it’s better for everyone—even the players who are in trouble—to get the truth out there, face the downfall, and move on.

Without the truth, an iconic brand will suffer, people will lose their jobs, and fans like me may find something else to do on Sunday afternoons (and Sunday, Monday, and Thursday nights).

Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.

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