How the $9B NFL Has a Credibility Problem

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, subjective judge/jury/executioner

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

People do dumb things. Some, worse than others. Then there are some so despicable, you can hardly believe it.

The most recent example as far as the National Football League (NFL)* is concerned was a player beating his fiancée senseless, then dragging her lifeless body out of an elevator. I won’t mention the scumbag by name, and there are many, much deeper issues that are at play here. Yesterday, the NFL decided that this was merely worth a two-game suspension. Like I said, people do dumb things.

Whether it be the employees of an organization or the players of a league, consequences should be clearly outlined for certain behaviors. However, the NFL – and specifically the commissioner – continues to lose credibility in this category.

The NFL does not have a consistent, stated list of consequences for player (and owner) behavior. Essentially, it is up to the commissioner’s discretion, each on a case-by-case basis, as to what, if any, the punishment will be and to what extent. Case in point: players in the past year who have committed seemingly less “crimes,” such as taking performance-enhancing substances, or recreational drugs, have received upwards of twice the punishment as the scumbag mentioned earlier.

Credibility in an organization can be achieved with this simple formula:
Objectivity + Consistency = Credibility

  • Be Objective: This is why the CEO of a large corporation doesn’t run the HR or Compliance Departments. It removes any doubt of impartiality when deciding punishment.
  • Be Consistent: The same rules or punishment should apply to all people that commit the same rule infractions.
  • Be Credible: Have rules clearly stated, consequences clearly defined, and a third-party determining the result. Save the organizational leader for an appeal or the extremely serious matters.

We all know life is not fair, but when employees are held to different standards or receive a different punishment based on subjective observation, that creates a groundswell of mistrust within an organization. And the ground is definitely shaking in the NFL.

* While it has been joked that it stands for the “No Fun League” (we can’t have our employees celebrating too much playing the game they’ve loved since a kid), or the “Not For Long” League (average career is less than four years), it is quickly gaining a reputation as the “Not Fair League.”

Rory Led the Whole Way…Until the Acceptance Speech

"Wait, let me explain..." (Photo by Getty Images)

“Wait, let me explain…” (Photo by Getty Images)

On July 20, the 25-year-old Northern Irish golfer Rory McIlroy won the Open Championship, completing the first three legs of golf’s prestigious “grand slam.”

McIlroy led the tournament wire-to-wire, and while bending to a lead of only three strokes on championship Sunday, he didn’t break and finished on top.

McIlroy seemingly did all the right things both on and off the course, which has made him golf’s most popular player not named Tiger. Only on Sunday, he had a minor slip-up…and those that turned off the TV after he had successfully secured the championship never saw it.

During the acceptance speech, ready to take the Claret Jug about after thanking the club, his competitors, family, and friends, he was nearly home when it happened…in attempting to thank the crowd for its support, he uttered the phrase, “…even though I’m a Man United fan sittin’ here…”

He barely finished uttering those words before a chorus of boos reigned down upon him. Why? Because McIlroy was in Liverpool, England, home of the soccer club of the same name and bitter rivals with Manchester United. McIlroy tried to explain the reasoning, with his point being that even Liverpool fans had cheered and supported him, as a ManU fan. But the damage-albeit brief-had already been done.

So what can be learned from McIlroy’s misstep?

  • Don’t Forget Your Setting: When making your point, don’t bring up something that has the chance of riling up your target audience. If you’re in Boston, don’t mention the Yankees. If you’re in Liverpool, don’t mention Manchester United.
  • Don’t Get Risky: McIlroy was home free, but by trying to endear himself to the crowd, he did the exact opposite and isolated himself from them.
  • No “Take-Backs:” For all the goodwill built during the tournament, there will still be some who will leave that day saying “Can you believe he mentioned ManU?” Tread carefully because your words can have a lasting impact, especially if it’s near the last thing you say.

Misstep aside, we still got to see an athlete on rise, who along with Arnie, Jack, and Tiger, is becoming known for one name: Rory.

A Champion Retires a Captain

Jeter 1

Okay, well he’s not retired yet, but Derek Jeter of the N.Y. Yankees did play in his final All Star game, his 14th to be exact on July 15, to go along with his five World Series titles (’96, ’98-’00, ’09), five Silver Slugger Awards (’06-’09, ’12), and five Gold Gloves (’04-’06, ’09-’10) just to name a few of his accolades.

Not to mention a uniform number that will be retired among other single-digit Yankee greats, making only double-digit numbers available for all future players in pinstripes.

Just before this year’s game, former teammate (now turned media jockey) Aaron Boone asked Jeter if he thinks of himself as “great.” As calmly as he dives for balls hit to his left, he simply answered “No,” and added that he just wants to be consistent so his employer knows what they’re getting every time. Boone continued: “What about ‘Derek Jeter, Captain?’” Jeter’s reply: “I’m just doing my job; setting an example, doing it the right way.”

So how has Jeter done it at an age (40) that is normally considered long past a baseball player’s prime? By following these steps:

  • Stick With What You Know: Not good in front of the camera? Have someone else do the interviews. Great at drafting a speech? Have at it.
  • Be Consistent: It’s okay if you don’t hit a home run every time at the plate; but always getting on base…or knowing how to craft the right message will do the trick.
  • Take Pride in What You Do: Presenting sloppy materials will not only reflect poorly on you, but you’ll quickly fall out of favor with your employer. Be accountable and take a sense of ownership in all that you do.
  • Respect the Process: You’re not going to capture the CEO’s voice right away; give it time, prove yourself, and trust will be given. Soon, you’ll write materials as if it really were him. After all, Jeter didn’t win all those titles in just one year.

Fact is, those that try to be great or anoint themselves early on, often fail to live up to those expectations. It’s not until they focus on being good, staying within themselves, and doing it over time, is what leads them to greatness. It may even give you standing ovations in opposing ballparks and a commercial campaign where even your bitter interleague and same-city rivals tip their cap to you in respect.

You want to be great? Focus on being consistently good. Greatness will come.

A Champion is Crowned

Photo by PEDRO UGARTE/AFP/Getty Images

Photo by PEDRO UGARTE/AFP/Getty Images

After a month that captured the world’s attention – and every four years, more of the United States’ as well – Germany moved into a tie for second place all time with their fourth World Cup title. They, along with Italy, now only trail five-time winner Brazil, who hosted this year’s tournament, and may be best remembered for what they didn’t do, like play defense when it mattered most.

Germany wasn’t perfect in this tournament, after all they “shockingly” tied Ghana, but they stuck to their principles and were:

  • Consistent: They always seemed to be the more skilled tacticians on the field. Always have some strategic communications solutions regardless of the issue.
  • Precise: Passing in tight areas created chances. Communications campaigns can be complicated; or they can appear flawless with perfect execution.
  • Opportunistic: If you gave them space, they made you pay for it…just ask Brazil. When you see an opportunity to enhance an internal or external perception, go after it, and quickly.

Germany kept their emotions in check (again, see Brazil players crying before they even won or lost their knockout game), kept level heads (Suarez is still flossing after his on-field meal), and handled their win with class (lined the Argentine players and applauded them as they accepted their runner-up medals).

The communications profession is often known for every day being different. But, consistently coming up with solutions, executing your plans, and seizing either media relations or employee communications opportunities can lead you to a title in your own right: a successful communicator.

And wonder if the U.S. will ever win the World Cup like Germany? Only time will tell, but the Americans are following a similar strategy as the Germans and are bringing in an abundance of young, albeit initially unproven, talent to grow into stars. Oh, and the coach that set up the framework for Germany’s current title? Jurgen Klinsmann, the current coach of the U.S. team.

A Champion Comes Home

lebron-james-return-plain-dealer-cover

By now, or unless you’ve gone on a fasting diet of all things media since last Friday, July 11, you’ve heard that LeBron James (@KingJames), arguably the best basketball player (currently) on the planet, announced that he was “coming home;” going back to where his career began with the Cleveland Cavaliers. He brilliantly passed PR 101 with his announcement, where he miserably and memorably failed it with “The Decision” just four years ago.

So in a society that loves the rise, the fall, and the rebirth of athletes and celebrities, what made the difference? It’s often the personal willingness to get to the rebirth phase. It’s the difference between a Roger Clemens and an Andy Pettitte or a Jason Giambi and an A-Rod.

In his letter, LeBron, whether knowingly or unknowingly…but probably knowingly, hit some of the key points when facing a crisis communications situation after an event has occurred:

  • Acknowledge the Issue: “If I had to do it all over again, I’d obviously do things differently.”
  • Empathy (For any victims, including a possible apology; which will be debated in legal circles until the end of time): “Northeast Ohio…I sometimes feel like I’m their son…it drives me…I want to give them hope when I can… I didn’t realize that four years ago. I do now.”
  • Has it Happened Before or Why Did it Happen: “These past four years helped raise me into who I am. I became a better player and a better man. I learned from a franchise…without the experiences I had there, I wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing today.”
  • What Will Be Done Differently: “I’d obviously do things differently…I’m not promising a championship…I’m not having a press conference or a party…it’s time to get to work.”

With that, LeBron has not only come home, but he’s also shown how to “turn the corner.”

Cleveland Rocks…They Better

In the past week, the Forest City (which makes sense given it sits on the southern shore of a massive lake), has conducted a pretty impressive run in two different sports and the political arena. Since May, Cleveland has seen the arrival of the football circus known as Johnny Manziel, landed the next Republican National Convention, drafted the No. 1 pick in the NBA (again) with Andrew Wiggins (yes, this Andrew Wiggins)*, and the world’s best basketball player announced he was coming back to his hometown basketball team (more on that in my post “A Champion Comes Home.”)

Not a bad past few months. Makes my becoming a parent for the first time, switching jobs and industries, and starting a blog in that same time period seem pretty mundane.

How did they pull it off? Different circumstances in the various sports and city government played a part, but surely each entity followed some general themes that can be found when either selecting the right talent for your organization or going after your goal, even if that means an employee “bringing his talents” back to where they began.

  • Keep Your End Goal In Mind: Both the Browns and Cavs needed dynamic players to re-energize their franchises, as well as needs for certain positions. The Browns moved up to get theirs; the Cavs stayed put for theirs. Know what you want and make the right moves to get it.
  • Be Willing to Deal: The city made a hard pitch to the RNC and it paid off. In any courtship, there are certain compromises that are made, but if both parties view it as a “win,” than those concessions are merely “capital.”
  • The Truth Will Set You Free: The Cavs’ owner met with LeBron and they both admitted faults in the past to pave the way for a repaired future. Sometimes “my bad” is the gateway to a marvelous new beginning.

Cleveland’s motto is “Progress & Prosperity” and the last week has certainly lived up to the first part of that billing. Now, with it driving a seemingly unstoppable train of good fortune, will it deliver the second part?

*Wiggins is now being discussed as a trade option to bring Kevin Love to Cleveland, so stay tuned.

Introducing “Lessons from Left Field”

What? Another blog? Well, yes, but let me tell you how “Lessons from Left Field” is different…

What you won’t read here: How great my breakfast was, even if I’ve had my nearly world famous cheesy eggs; how I finished 35th in my age group in the latest 5K race (saved for Facebook); the most recent cute thing that my daughter did (if you have your own kids you understand, if you don’t, you’re tired of hearing about everyone else’s kids); and how apparently great/miserable life can be at times (it’s a hard knock life, we need to get over it).

What you will read here: The blog will feature posts in roughly 400 words that glean communications and career insights from sports, and probably the occasional current event. With a degree in public relations and a profession in the communications field – with a passion for sports – thought this would be the perfect combination for this blog, while offering communication tips that can be found in sporting events. Some may just be observations when sporting and current events collide.

As “Lessons from Left Field” makes its debut, my first posts take a look at how Cleveland is definitely “Rocking,” (or at least they better), as well as how a letter, a flick of the foot, and a tip of the cap – seemingly effortless endeavors – over the past week have renewed, produced, and revered champions in three different sports. With that, hope you enjoy and I’m happy that you’re here…