By Harry Jacques-Pierre
Ray Rice. Adrian Peterson. Roger Goodell. Three names that over the past week have become synonymous with the mounting crisis within the National Football League. As the debate grows over the League’s handling of the Ray Rice domestic violence assault case and Peterson’s child abuse indictment, murmurs of what should happen to NFL Commissioner Goodell are getting louder. The cry for Goodell’s resignation or firing is the result of a series of bad decisions made from the top of an organization, something that we’ve seen many times in the crisis communications field and almost always leads to a leadership change.
Some people think that just doing a good job and having the backing of your boss, in this case NFL team owners, is enough to save you. That if you have internal support the external pressure will go away. Not true. There eventually comes a time when there is nothing more you can do. Getting rid of the CEO, whether fair or unfair, doesn’t matter. It comes down to what’s needed to change the conversation. We had a client whose organization helped a segment of the population which, literally, had nowhere else to go. This particular organization was essential to the community, but once the climate towards the head of the organization started to change and people started calling for their ouster, no amount of past goodwill could save them. The end was inevitable and we knew it. The head of the organization needed to go.
We tell our clients the best way to manage your reputation during a crisis is to be forthcoming with information and to always tell the truth. Showing that your organization takes the matter seriously, as some would say the NFL is by hiring former FBI Direct Robert Mueller to look into the handling of the Rice investigation, is good but sometimes that may not be enough. As painful as it may be, to save the institution’s reputation the leader has to step down amidst the crisis to allow it to function without distraction. Oftentimes this move, coupled with the naming of a well-respected, accomplished successor (i.e. Condoleezza Rice) will let the organization navigate the crisis without the unwanted specter of a blemished boss.
Needless to say, the appointment of Ms. Rice as NFL Commissioner would change the image of the league significantly. It would also prove that new leadership is sometimes the only way to stop the damage that will destroy your reputation.