What Schools and Universities Can Learn from the NFL’s Commitment to a One-Year Crisis: 7 Mistakes Causing the Crisis to Drag On

GoodellcrisisgerardbraudBy Gerard Braud

Schools and universities often let a crisis drag on longer than it should. What expert would allow a crisis to drag on? What expert would advise their client to let a crisis drag on for one year? I suspect the answer is zero. But many educational institutions are guilty of behaving the way the NFL is behaving.

Consider that the NFL’s failure at crisis management and crisis communications essentially means that the punch Ray Rice threw on Valentine’s Day 2014 will have repercussions through February 14, 2015. Here is why and here is how you can keep from making similar mistakes at your school or university.

1) Failure to fully investigate the Ray Rice case, or a willful attempt to hide all of the facts by officials in the NFL and/or the Ravens, have already caused this crisis to drag out six months longer than necessary. Speed is always your friend in crisis management and crisis communication and it should be a vital part of your written plans. As TMZ pointed out with their video and through their questions at the recent Roger Goodell news conference, it wasn’t very hard to get the facts and evidence. Many schools and universities are guilty of taking too long to complete investigations.

2) Failure to do the right thing the first time will always haunt you and will cause the crisis to reignite. Just think about it — the Ray Rice case could have been finished by March 1, 2014. Here we are approaching October 1, 2014, and it is still front page news. This is unacceptable and unprofessional. This demonstrates the NFL doesn’t have a crisis management or crisis communications plan that they follow. This demonstrates that the person at the top lacks true leadership qualities. A good leader would not allow the organization’s brand, reputation, and revenue to be tarnished over eight months. Many schools and universities hope they can hide facts. Many think that not everyone needs to know the truth. This is a serious sin.

3) Failure to do the right thing the first time and the eventual re-ignition of the crisis causes the media and others to ask, “What else might we not know? What might they be hiding? What don’t they want us to know?” Those were the questions I asked when I was a reporter. Once a reporter starts digging, it is like pulling a thread on a sweater – eventually it all unravels. The unraveling in this crisis is the additional focus. The scrutiny and penalties placed on other players who were previously not clumped in with the Rice case now have their cases tainted because of poor crisis management and a flawed executive decision-making.

4) When the threads unravel, it becomes safer for those who are holding secrets to come forward. This is what led to the ESPN report alleging the Ravens knew everything about the Rice case and allegations the Ravens worked to have Goodell go easy on Rice. Although the Ravens refute the ESPN report, you can bet ESPN is doubling down on their investigative reporting. As a result, don’t be surprised if this crisis reignites again very soon. Schools and universities only need to recall the Penn State scandal to see correlation.

5) Goodell made a further mistake by announcing that by the Super Bowl in February 2015, committees will make recommendations about the consistency of punishment for players and report on the true status of domestic violence among players. This means Goodell is tainting and over shadowing Super Bowl coverage with an extension of a negative story. This is just dumb. This is intentionally stretching out brand damage, reputational damage, and revenue damage. No smart leader would tie a crisis-related deadline to the most high profile day associated with your organization.

6) Saying you got it wrong is a start, but it is not enough. The reason it is not enough is because there is no plausible reason to have gotten it wrong the first time. Furthermore, throwing money at anti-domestic violence organizations appears to be an insincere act of desperation and diversion. Also, the cynical minds in the audience believe Goodell and team owners, who used the “We got it wrong” line, were really saying, “We got caught and we regret that we got caught” not doing the right thing, for the right reasons, the first time.

7) Trust is lost when bad decisions are made in the beginning, when flip-flops happen months later, and when the crisis is extended by bad decision making. When sponsors drop their sponsorship, it means they have lost trust. When customers spend less on merchandise and are less likely to watch games, the lack of trust is amplified. Don’t forget your loss of trust with employees. In this case, Goodell has lost the trust of players. At schools and universities, there is often a lack of trust by parents and students.

A few weeks ago when this crisis became front-page news, I called for Goodell to be suspended for one year for the same reason he suspended Saints coach Sean Peyton for a year. Payton’s suspension was based on the concept that the person at the top should have known what was going on in the organization.

But in light of the seven items outlined above and Goodell’s failure to show leadership in managing and terminating this crisis, my professional advice to the team owners would be to fire Goodell. He has hurt your brand, your reputation and your revenue. Surely there is someone else who can do a better job this time and in the future.

Keep this in mind at your school or university. Remember that you can be king today and the joker tomorrow.

NFL Crisis Management: 3 Steps Schools and Universities Should Follow for Good Ethics and Leadership in Crisis Management and Communications

goodell whateverBy Gerard Braud

Schools and universities often make the same bad ethical decisions we see the NFL making, which includes failure of crisis communications, failure of crisis management, and failure of leadership.

Today should be the day you have a discussion with your administration to learn the mistakes and keep them from ever happening at your school or university.

First, have good written plans. Crisis management requires having a written plan that can be followed in every crisis in order to manage the crisis, to formulate the communications, and to guide the thought process of the decision makers.

The written plan helps insure good crisis communications will happen because there will be honest and ethical leadership. Good, ethical leadership is doing and saying in private what you would do and say if the entire world were watching and listening.

Penn State’s child abuse scandal and the NFL likely suffer from the same behavior you may see at your school or university. Usually, a bunch of old white guys – yes I said it – gather in a room and all say, “If people find out about this we’re in big trouble. If people find out about this, our reputation will be ruined. If people find out about this, we’ll lose boat loads of money.”

The group usually goes on to make decisions designed to hide the facts from parents, students, athletic supporters, alumni and the community, as a way to protect their reputation and revenue.

This is never the correct way to manage a crisis.

The administration and crisis management group should be saying, “If we don’t come clean and tell the world about this we will be in big trouble. If we don’t act honestly, our reputation will be damaged. If we enact real change, we can seek forgiveness and repair our reputation and revenue. If we get this wrong, our reputation and revenue will be more damaged than if we hide the truth.

The school or university must end the crisis and not kick the can down the road in cover up. The correct way for any school or university to protect its reputation and revenue is to end the crisis by doing the right thing the first time.

This includes:

1) Letting the world know the full extent of what has been uncovered in your investigation

2) Punishing those who are at the root of the crisis

3) Announcing steps to keep it from happening again.


Roger Goodell and the NFL:

1) Only let the world know part of what happened and likely hid facts they knew

2) Handed down a punishment based on the world not knowing the full truth about Ray Rice

3) Are now announcing steps to give money to groups who advocate against domestic violence.

Domestic violence is not the crisis at hand in the NFL. The crisis is denial, arrogance, and bad ethics by the people responsible for leading the NFL.

Yes, domestic violence is an issue for some players, but so is womanizing, drinking, drugs, DUI, getting in car wrecks, theft, dog fighting, and even murder. The players in the NFL are a representation of the population at large and the NFL can only do so much to raise awareness about all of these issues.

Ray Rice isn’t the first player guilty of domestic violence and will not be the last. The NFL didn’t throw money at domestic violence prevention in the past. So why now? The NFL is trying to distract us from the truth and the failure of the people who failed to be good, ethical leaders.

The people running the NFL are still not getting it right. In fact, they are making their wrong worse. We’ve seen this happen at many schools and universities.

If my suspicions are true, just like when more truth came out about Penn State, I predict more truth will come out about what the NFL knew. As the truth comes out, credibility will be lost and the institution’s reputation will be further damaged, with a slow erosion of revenue each day the crisis lingers. Some revenue loss will come from the sponsors who pull out. Some revenue loss will come from fans who don’t buy tickets or merchandise.

The NFL must do what all schools and universities should do from the beginning:

1) Tell the truth

2) Punish not just the players, but the guilty executives as well

3) Announce steps to make sure bad decision making doesn’t happen again.


Punishing the guilty is always a correct option. Suspending Roger Goodell is still a viable option. It needs to be done swiftly in the name of crisis management and ethics.

At a school or university, athletes can be suspended or expelled, but administrators often must be fired for bad ethical decisions.

The Financial Impact of an Athletic Crisis on Schools and Universities

Adrian PetersonBy Gerard Braud

Schools and universities should be evaluating whether they have a plan when the crisis of another entity becomes their crisis, forcing upon them a crisis communications challenge. Any school or university athletic program could face the same crisis management and crisis communications challenges that we see in the NFL. When one crisis spreads, it causes damage to the reputation and revenue of various teams, players and sponsors.

Most schools and universities, I suspect, would be slow to respond to such a crisis. My expert advice would be that every school and university public relations team should stop today to study the unfolding NFL crisis. Each should look for vulnerabilities on their own campus, as well as other schools. School administrators need to be a part of those discussions.

You would think the NFL would have an inside or outside expert to advise them, but apparently the leadership is trying to manage this on their own, with bad results.

Radisson logoThe NFL crisis has spread to the Minnesota Vikings, as sponsor Radisson pulls its support. Radisson is the logo sponsor seen behind the coaches and players when they have news conferences. It is the place where Adrian Peterson’s coach and general manager stood to announce that Peterson would play this coming Sunday, even though he was benched after being charged with felony child abuse for reportedly using a switch on his four-year-old son.

Radisson’s online statement says they are evaluating the facts while suspending their sponsorship.

Radisson, likely fearing “guilt by association,” is a victim of failed crisis management and crisis communications by the NFL and Roger Goodell regarding Ray Rice. The crisis then went on to touch the Vikings, Peterson and now the hotel chain.

Many schools and universities have similar sponsors for their athletic events and teams. These sponsors are critical for funding, but can be quickly lost.

Had Goodell originally handled the Rice crisis properly, the league would not be under such heavy scrutiny for other players with various degrees of accusations of child or domestic abuse. Failure to manage the crisis then communicate the action plan is letting the smoldering crisis spread like a wild fire. Many people are getting burned.

Now the NFL has a bigger crisis than the original crisis. There are the allegations surrounding Rice and Peterson, as well as Ray Hardy of the Carolina Panthers and Ray McDonald of the San Francisco 49ers.

Each player, each franchise, and the sponsors surrounding the teams, all need a crisis management plan and a crisis communications plan that will end each of their respective crises before each suffers damage to reputation and revenue.

In schools and universities, issues of drug abuse, alcohol abuse, rape and other sexual offenses are common. Have a plan to deal with these crises early, or suffer the fate of the NFL.

What Schools and Universities Can Learn: NFL Misses a Crisis Management and Crisis Communication Opportunity on Sunday

Roger goodell gerard braudBy Gerard Braud

School and university administrators are often slow to communicate in a crisis and fail to execute true crisis management. I’ve watched educational institutions ruin their reputation and lose revenue by being slow to respond, much like we see happening in the NFL.

For example, Sunday football arrived without a plan for NFL management to end the Ray Rice crisis. Nor did they manage the crisis surrounding what NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell knew. Like many schools and universities, the NFL is moving slow. Slow response only makes the crisis worsen and last longer.

Fans continue to call for Goodell to be fired. Is there another option for crisis management and crisis communications shy of Goodell’s termination? And, can it be done quickly?

Sometimes the best plan is to look for a creative solution that hasn’t yet been considered in the crisis. I’ve seen schools and universities also fail to look for creative ways to manage and end a crisis.

What if the crisis management solution was for Goodell to communicate to the Sunday NFL audience that he was suspending himself for one year? It would have displayed leadership in a crisis and brought the crisis to a conclusion.

Is this the best expert advice that crisis managers and crisis communications counselors could make? It would be the creative crisis management solution I would suggest.

Consider this — New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton was suspended for one year. Even though he didn’t know that his defensive coach was running a bounty program for defensive players, Goodell said that as the head coach, it happened on Payton’s watch. Payton, as the top leader, was held responsible by Goodell.

Sean PaytonSo, many call for Goodell to be fired as Goodell goes into classic executive denial, diversion and potential cover-up about what he knew. The best way for him to end the current crisis would be to suspend himself on the grounds that the Rice incident happened on his watch. If someone within the NFL had video of the punch in the elevator and Goodell didn’t see it, then by default, Goodell is as guilty as Payton.

If we learn Goodell did know about the video, or saw the video, and/or was told by Ray Rice about the punch, yet failed to serve Rice his harsh penalty until the world saw the punch video, then we have a classic case of leadership failure in a crisis. We have a case of an executive acting one way toward others, yet having different rules for himself. We have a case of an executive who was wishing it would all go away, but who was forced to respond differently when the world learned more.

Crisis management requires good ethics and good ethical decisions. Expert crisis management only happens when the executive’s words and actions are one in the same. Are the executive’s actions congruent with his or her words? When they are, the executive is a leader. When they are not congruent, the executive fails to be a leader.

The more I watch this crisis the more I expect it to get worse. When a crisis is allowed to smolder this long it results only in more damage to reputation and revenue. Experts will tell you that the faster you end the crisis, the faster revenue and reputation are restored.

Leadership in a crisis happens when hard decisions are made quickly. A self-suspension is a great compromise shy of Goodell being fired. If Goodell fails to take a bold step, then his job is one the line, as it should be, for failing at crisis management and crisis communications.

3 Questions for Schools and Universities to Ask about the Intersection of Crisis Management, Crisis Communication, and Crisis Communications Plans: The NFL

Rayrice pressBy Gerard Braud

Schools and universities can learn a lot from another crisis management and crisis communication lesson playing out in the NFL. The Associated Press now reports the NFL had a copy of the videotape showing Ray Rice punching his wife in the face.

In schools and universities, a common problem we see is a failure to gather vital facts quickly and a failure seek help from an outside crisis expert. We see unethical decisions made to protect the short-term reputation and revenue of an institution.

A crisis management and crisis communication weakness found in many educational institutions involves leaders intentionally covering up a crisis or not fully sharing information. When this happens, it is not possible for everyone on the crisis management team to connect the dots in a way that results in the best resolution of the crisis and full, honest communications about that resolution.

Here are three questions your school or university can ask today to have better crisis management and a better crisis communications plan.

1) When a crisis unfolds, do you have a central hub within the crisis management team so all information is collected and disseminated to the key decision makers? If there is or was such a system within the NFL, a videotape of the elevator punch would have been shared with the crisis management team. If there is and was a system, then we have a case of unethical behavior, personified by a cover up and possible lies in media interviews by Roger Goodell.

2) Does your school or university’s crisis communications plan have a predetermined list of questions that you will ask in every crisis so that everyone is always on the same page? This is one of the most powerful tools you can have and a vital part of all of the crisis communications plans I write.

3) Is there conflict among your administration because ethical decisions about a crisis often take a back seat to legal arguments by lawyers or financial arguments from the CFO? Those arguments often result in everyone taking a vow of silence so the organization doesn’t get sued, resulting in a loss of reputation and revenue. This is the job of the communication experts in the room: Connect the dots for everyone else and focus on the long-term reputation and financial health of the organization. Help them do the right thing for the long-term and not the most convenient thing in the short-term.

Smoldering crises like the NFL Ray Rice case often causes various leaders to connect the dots only in a way that is immediately best for their interest, rather than in a way that is best for the long-term health of the organization, its leaders, and in many cases, the victims of the crisis.

For example, in the case of Penn State, we saw the university fail to expose the crime of sexual abuse out of fear of reputational damage and a loss of revenue. This short-term failure resulted in more boys being victims of sexual abuse, greater reputational harm, a larger financial loss, and top leaders being fired.

In the case of the NFL, many experts believe the only reason the NFL has taken a tough stand on concussions is because of a lawsuit that would damage their reputation and lead to a huge financial loss if it went to trial. It was not done years ago when it could have been.

When powerful people hide the facts from the world to avoid a bad reputation and revenue loss in a crisis, you are witnessing unethical behavior in a crisis. In most cases the secret becomes public, executives get fired, the institution’s reputation is damaged, and revenue is lost. Stay tuned to see what happens with the NFL.

4 Crisis Communications Lessons for Schools and Universities as the NFL Management Struggles with the Ray Rice Smoldering Crisis

rayrice apBy Gerard Braud

A school or university can face a crisis in their athletic departments in the same way the NFL faces a sports crisis this week.

Do you have a school crisis communications plan to address a sports or athletic crisis?

Study the NFL crisis and consider how communications could and has affected this crisis. For example, will the crisis get worse because of non-verbal communications? Can the NFL management communicate their way out of the crisis? Below are some observations and suggestions to help you cope with your own school crisis.

The non-verbal message from the NFL is that they are more concerned about one man hitting another man in the head on the field than they are about a man – essentially an employee – hitting a woman in the head, or more specifically, punching the woman in the face.

That non-verbal message speaks volumes and creates a crisis within a crisis.

Another part of the crisis is the NFL saying they have been unable to obtain the most compelling video of the actual punch. TMZ – not even the mainstream media, but the tabloid media – did what the NFL could not or would not, according to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. From a non-verbal standpoint, this communicates that the NFL didn’t want to try as hard as they could, fearing the crisis might get worse. As we see, the crisis did get worse and is getting worse because the NFL executive management failed to fully investigate the crisis, perhaps in fear of what they might discover. Or, if reporting by the Associated Press is correct, the NFL had the incriminating video, but perhaps failed to take stronger action until that video went public.

On the plus side, Goodell has done media interviews and apologized. In too many crisis case studies there is a clear failure to apologize.

On the plus side, sporting goods stores have positioned themselves as heroes in the crisis by communicating their willingness to exchange Ray Rice football jerseys for new jerseys if a fan feels betrayed and regrets owning a Rice jersey. This is great customer service and frankly, great public relations, for essentially “doing the right thing.”

On the plus side, AE Sports is removing Rice from their video games. Again, this is great public relations, for doing the right thing.

Both the sporting goods stores and AE Sports have actually capitalized on the crisis in a way you might not expected, but in a way that creatively allows them to denounce violence against women.

When crisis management is botched because of failed communications, there is usually fallout. Usually people get fired and revenue is lost.

Already people are calling for Goodell to resign. Will he lose his job because of the perception created that he and the NFL were protecting their player hoping the fallout would not get worse? More than one expert is predicting a revenue loss for NFL sportswear among females, after years of high revenue growth from apparel sales to women.

What can you learn from this crisis?

1) When a smoldering crisis breaks out, you, the public relations professional, must vigorously investigate the case behind the crisis. Approach it like an expert prosecutor or an expert investigative reporter. You need to know what the school officials might not want to know or what the school administrators know but have not told you.

2) The PR team must also look for school administrators who are in denial. Denial is characterized by the administrative team’s subtle attempts to move forward as though the smoldering crisis will not ignite.

3) On a clear sunny day, make sure your crisis communications plan outlines procedures for investigating a smoldering crisis and responding to a smoldering crisis. Too many PR people and school crisis communication plans are structured to respond only to natural disasters and sudden emergencies. It is a huge crisis communication plan failure to not anticipate your reaction to a smoldering crisis.

4) Define a crisis for your school as anything that can affect both the reputation and revenue of the organization. The loss of votes on a tax issue for schools is a reflection of revenue loss for a school. The NFL crisis is a perfect example of something that is neither a natural disaster nor a sudden emergency, but certainly something that will affect both the reputation and revenue of the organization.

Experts will tell you that in most schools, you are more likely to face a smoldering crisis than you are to face a sudden emergency or natural disaster.

If you have more questions about preparing for a smoldering school crisis please give me a call at 985-624-9976.