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.