The NFL has had a myriad of crises in the last few years. When I was asked to pick a crisis to talk about, there were almost too many football crises to choose from, from Michael Vick’s dogfighting scandal, to Ray Rice’s domestic abuse video, to Adrian Peterson’s child abuse, to “DeflateGate”, and even the Washington Redskins insistence on keeping their racist and bigoted team name and mascot. However, the most prevalent crisis in the NFL is what continues to plague them today, and will for the foreseeable future, player concussions.
It is not necessarily surprising that gigantic men who collide with each other constantly over an almost 3 hour period are going to suffer from some head injuries, well, unless you are making public statements from the NFL that is, as Paul Tagliabue, former NFL Commissioner, recently “Concussions is one of these pack journalism issues, frankly… the number is relatively small. The problem is, it is a journalistic issue.” Although this is just one, it is representative of a larger pattern of the NFL’s attitude on this issue. This is a great example of poor crisis management. As the NFL in this case does not address the severity of the problem that they are presented and makes the media their enemy, something that can never be to your advantage through the lens of PR. The NFL refuses to take responsibility for this issue, dismisses it as journalistic fear mongering, which ultimately reflects on a lack of sympathy and empathy for players whose future health and well-being is at stake.
Ideally, in this situation the NFL makes a general statement including their desire to keep the game safe and that they will conduct a scientific investigation on the prevalence of concussions in the NFL and any possible ways to reduce them. However, the NFL did not do this, and instead covered up the health dangers for their players. When a crisis occurs, it is always important to come at your audience with a sense of regret, sympathy, and empathy. However, the NFL blatantly disregards this and instead chose to come at the situation with a sense of pretentious, hostile apathy. This attitude has been compared to the way that cigarette companies ignored and disregarded the links between cigarettes and cancer (Dabscheck, 2014).
However, after this information had come to light, the NFL conceded that although concussions may occur rather frequently, that they were not serious, despite mountains of scientific and medical research that completely contradicted those claims, ” These consequences can include motor, cognitive, and behavioural impairment sometimes associated with the development of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE)” (Nierengarten, 2011)
So to recap, so far the NFL has shown an almost amazing disregard for the media, demonizing them and accusing them of fear-mongering, showing what was earlier described as a pretentious, hostile apathy. It appears as though the PR team for the NFL looked at a how-to guide for crisis management, and decided to do everything the opposite. When ESPN approached them with the intent to be their ally in this case(after all they have a lot of stake in the continued success of the NFL) the NFL refused to comment and was quoted several times during the outbreak and development of this story with poor statements like, “no comment,” or “we will not have any comments today” do almost only harm. (Marketing Communications Collective) Refusing to talk about the situation only makes the audience more suspicious and distrustful of the brand.
It is almost hard to call this a case of poor crisis management, because one has to reasonably ask the question; did the NFL even attempt to manage this crisis?
Dabscheck, B. (2014). League of denial: The NFL, concussions and the battle for the truth. Labour & Industry: A Journal of the Social and Economic Relations of Work, 24(2), 161-163. doi:10.1080/10301763.2014.91579
Marketing Communications Collective. (September 10, 2014). Crisis management, nfl style. https://lgkmarketingmatters.wordpress.com/2014/09/10/crisis-management-nfl-style/
Nierengarten, M. B. (2011). Neurologists weigh in on sports-related concussions. Lancet Neurology, 10(4), 302-303. doi:10.1016/S1474-4422(11)70058-8