3 Communications Lessons from the Ray Rice Incident

Running back Ray Rice of the Baltimore Ravens during a news conference with his wife Janay at the Ravens training center on May 23 in Owings Mills, Md. (Photograph by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Ray Rice, then of the Baltimore Ravens, and his wife Janay speak at a press conference at the Ravens training center on May 23 after the first video surfaced. (Photograph by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Yesterday, the video of professional football player Ray Rice slugging his then fiancée (and now wife) in the face in an elevator was released online. With the punch, the victim was lifted off her feet, hit her head on a railing, and crashed in an unconscious heap to the ground.

Up to this point, all that the public saw was Rice dragging the lifeless body of Janay Palmer out of the elevator. That elicited a two-game suspension from the NFL, then after a month of public outcry, the NFL left the suspension in place, but implemented heavier penalties for domestic abuse violations in the future.

With the video showing the whole incident, Rice was release from his employer and suspended indefinitely from the National Football League. There are a multitude of failures across the board and issues much deeper than this simple blog. From this tragic current event, here are three communications lessons that any company can learn from when faced with a possible crisis situation:

  • Don’t make up rules as you go along: Remember when we didn’t like it when our friends made up rules to a game we played as kids? Yeah, we don’t like it as adults either, especially when it comes to employment. The NFL issued a punishment, then made it more severe, then issued even a different penalty once they discovered more evidence. This leads to a credibility and trust issue for an organization, which I’ve talked about before here.
  • Don’t move forward without all the facts: Somehow the NFL didn’t have all of the video evidence before issuing its initial penalty. Despite any public outcry, explain to your audience that you understand the need for a quick resolution, but want to have all of the facts in place so that an educated – and complete – decision can be made. Otherwise, you end up with the public questioning not only your back-and-forth, but your apparent incompetence to do proper background security checks.
  • Don’t send someone else to deliver your message: The Baltimore Ravens sent their head coach in front of the cameras to comment on the team releasing Rice…by himself. However, the owner/CEO/President/General Manager should have spoken instead, or at least been at the podium with him, since they most likely made the final decision. This would have presented a united front and featured an owner actually taking ownership of the situation.

As mentioned earlier, at hand is a much more serious issue, such as the victim still deciding to stay with, and marry, her abuser. For those that may need help or are not sure where to go for help, the National Domestic Abuse Hotline is 1.800.799.7233 (SAFE). You may also visit their website at thehotline.org. Trained help is available for free 24/7.