The NFL Tries to Make Good with New Personal Conduct Policy
December 11, 2014
December 11, 2014
On Wednesday, the National Football League did what it should have done years ago and approved a new personal conduct policy. It applies not only to the league’s players, but also to owners, coaches, team employees, game officials and league office employees. While the new rules were ratified unanimously by 32 franchise owners, the NFL Players Association is already squawking that it wasn’t consulted properly and will challenge the policy through the arbitration process laid out in the collective bargaining agreement.
The new policy takes effect immediately. While some may consider this a rush to judgment, the NFL had little choice after the incompetence of how they handled the notorious abuse cases of Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson.
Sure, there are numerous issues where the NFL could use some help with its public image: Their handling of player concussions, the naming of the Redskins franchise, and publicly-funded stadiums to name just a few. However, from a communications and public reputation perspective, here are 4 things I believe the new conduct policy will do to immediately rebuild the NFL’s brand:
Issues a mea culpa
It shows the NFL (finally) recognized its policies were inadequate to deal with issues of domestic violence sensitively and appropriately. There have been too many inconsistencies in handing out discipline. (Curiously, all of the league’s drug offenses include suspension without pay.) Too often, judgment calls replaced a smart, thoughtful adjudication process and that just doesn’t cut it, especially for an organization with the visibility and influence of the NFL. A change had to be made.
Proves the NFL is more of a democracy, less of a dictatorship
The new policy provides some cover for Roger Goodell. It’s hard to believe someone who made $35.1 million last year would need cover, but Goodell’s now infamous repeating of untruths have rightfully been documented and mocked by the media. While the new policy maintains his influence in these cases, you can bet when the next high-profile disciplinary case happens, Goodell will be leaning on that special counsel and those independent experts.
Shows critics the NFL isn’t just all talk
Women’s groups, domestic violence advocates and, frankly, anyone with some common sense could quickly surmise that Goodell was in over his head with these most recent cases. The flip-flopping, the denials and the appeals process all made it blatantly obvious that the NFL was ill-prepared to deal with real-world, off-the-field issues. This new policy, at least in theory, shows everyone that the NFL wasn’t content to just let the media firestorm blow-over without making major changes.
Says There Are No More Exceptions
Now that there appears to be more of a clear, transparent disciplinary process, cases will hopefully be handled in a uniform manner that will bring some much needed sanity to the process. The punishment must fit the crime. Hopefully these fines and suspensions handed down by the NFL will start to make more sense with the benefit of some outside and independent opinions weighing in.
Will the policy ultimately be changed after a challenge by the Players Association? Perhaps. But from a public relations perspective, it demonstrates that the NFL is on the right path. It also shows that Roger Goodell isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. After all, he serves at the pleasure of the league’s 32 owners. And, at least until the next crisis, they appear satisfied. Are you?