The National Football League has one of the baddest PR machines on the planet, yo.
I mean, name me another organization that can make something as mundane as the release of the schedule a must-see event.
Go ahead. I’ll wait.
That’s what I thought.
For a long time, the league has ridden this wave of super-positive public perception to a level that is not sustainable. At some point, the walls will come crumbling down. Or, at the very least, they will start to erode. Viewership will go down. Major advertisers might re-think their ad buys.
In the world of professional sports, this is a crisis.
But good PR can delay (or, in some cases, avoid) this from happening.
The question is: Will the league act quickly enough?
Here are five reasons why the league should be in crisis mode now.
1. The New Orleans Bounty
This is the most obvious, so I’ll get it out of the way. Even though football is a sport where grown men are paid to hit other grown men, there is a lot of outrage that coaches put bounties on opposing players. I guess the “shock” that we’ve exhibited, that this could ever happen, is our way of showing how morally in-tune we are. I guess. (Grantland’s Bill Simmons hit the nail on the head in a recent column. He thinks the NFL is banking on apathy to get over this issue. I think he’s right.)
Regardless, this has stirred up a lot of negative buzz for the league, including the commissioner, Roger Goodell, who seems to think that massive suspensions will make it go away.
2. Ex-players Are Getting Angry
Former Washington Redskins quarterback, Mark Rypien, and 14 other ex-players have been added to a lawsuit that is seeking damages against the league for not disclosing the long-term effects of head trauma, which the plaintiffs claim the league knew about. Rypien is one of the first higher profile players to come out again the league. This issue will only escalate when we get past the NFL Draft.
3. Troy Aikman Won’t Let His Imaginary Son Play Football
Troy Aikman, one of the most successful quarterbacks in league history, recently made the claim that, if he had a son, he wouldn’t encourage him to play football because it’s too dangerous. This would be similar to Bill Gates telling his son he didn’t want him to pursue a career in computer software because he didn’t see the value you in it. You can see why this is a big deal for the sport of football.
4. Hall of Famer Lem Barney Wishes He Never Would Have Played Football
I think it speaks volumes about the state of the game when a player who made the Hall of Fame says that, in retrospect, he should’ve chosen a low-impact sport like golf or tennis, saying he feels “blessed” just to have minor nerve conditions that, at worse, prevent him from sleeping more than three or four hours a night. This, he claims, makes him more healthy than many of his former teammates.
5. The Media Has A Scent
For a long time (and, in the case of ESPN,which still chooses to air stories about Tim Tebow getting a manicure instead of actual news, still the case) the media stayed away from saying anything negative about the league because it is such a cash cow for so many entities. But, at a certain point, they can’t ignore the rumblings. If they claim to be a respectable news outlet, they have to start reporting it. I think we’re at this point. As more and more players come out against the league’s handling of concussions, this story will pick up steam.
(And it’s not a crisis unless the media gets a hold of it, amirite?)
You know, to beat a dead saying, Rome wasn’t built in a day. And neither was the NFL. But, eventually, Rome fell. And we can’t expect the NFL to be bulletproof forever. The time will come when the league’s PR machine will have to act accordingly. And the league executives won’t come out on top until they come clean with what they know.
At this point, it would be better to bite the bullet and explain what they know about concussions before things spiral out of control. Nothing good has ever come from keeping your mouth closed in the face of strong accusations, because the truth always comes out.
If the NFL wants to save face, they’d start acting now. But I fear this attitude of invincibility will be the downfall.
Good things don’t last forever.
But the organizations that succeed are the organizations that learn to react and identify potential landmines before it’s too late.
In the case of the NFL, the booby traps have been marked. Can the league step around them?
That remains to be seen.
But from a PR perspective, it will be fun to watch.