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.