NFL commissioner Roger Goodell held a press conference Friday, trying to stem the growing criticism of how he and the NFL failed to aggressively police itself in the wake of a string of domestic-abuse cases involving the Baltimore Ravens' Ray Rice, the Minnesota Vikings' Adrian Peterson and other players.
Instead, for three reasons, his statements provided the perfect example of what a leader should never do when faced with a crisis:
1. He spread the blame. Goodell talked repeatedly about how domestic abuse and child abuse exists in society. Indeed it does. Goodell doesn't run society. He runs the NFL. By making it a broader, societal issue, he seemed to be trying to deflect direct criticism of him and the league. In fact, in announcing the NFL would be working with the National Domestic Violence Hotline, he noted that the incident involving Rice punching out his girlfirend in an elevator had raised the volume of calls to the hotline. So, instead of addressing the eague's role as part of the national domestic-violence problem, he was trying to set up the NFL as part of the solution, taking credit for increased awareness of the issue. There may be a time for that, but it isn't now.
In addition, he kept talking about the complexities of dealing with the NFL Players Association, the union. The union has been pushing for due process for the players accused, as unions do. Goodell, though, is one of the most powerful commissioners in sports. He could have acted more aggressively under his own authority and made the conscious choice not to. The players will face the legal system, but a private entity can have its own rules. Back-handedly putting some of the blame on the NFLPA makes Goodell look like he doesn't have control of the situation.
2. He offered no solutions. Goodell's biggest response to the crisis was a commitment to bring in outside experts to help write new policies. That seems somehow flat when compared with the circumstances around the high-profile cases. Is it true that re-writing some standards of behavior for players would have prevented Peterson from beating up his 4-year-old son with a stick? Would it have stopped Rice from knocking his girlfriend -- now wife -- to the ground? One would think that laws and the standards of human behavior would serve as a great regulator to players, far more than black-and-white lines of rules fought over by lawyers, team owners and the NFLPA.
What's more, as flaccid as his proposals were, they are also coming too slowly. Goodell says the new standards of conduct will be in place by the Super Bowl. Put aside that the big game doesn't happen until the beginning of next year. That timeline places these new standards on a calendar tied to the NFL's playing schedule. Football is a game, but these actions are not. Drafting new rules could have been done already. How hard is it to type up a sentence like, "If any player beats his children, he can't play our game anymore" and move on? Goodell could have set a more aggressive deadline, but, again, he chose to leave aggressiveness out of the league's response.
3. He dismissed calls for his resignation. Goodell acknowledged his mistakes, then became the only man in America to say he hasn't given any thought to his resignation. He made a point of telling reporters that he has the support of the owners. He mentioned his discussions with sponsors. There wasn't a sense that the buck stops with him, or with anyone at the NFL, for that matter. Instead, he brushed aside the calls for his resignation as if they were simply an unwelcome distraction.
But there are serious questions about Goodell's leadership (or else we wouldn't be writing about it, no?). True leaders consider their own roles in these kinds of crises, but Goodell came across as believing he is the only one who can make sure the league fixes its abuse problem. That ignores the fact that the problem has worsened under his own watch.
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