What the Hell, NFL?

 What the Hell, NFL?

The PR Verdict: “D” (PR Problematic) for the NFL. (Pictured: Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher.)

This has been a particularly bad week for the PR image of the National Football League: a murder-suicide, a death due to drunk driving – even a reduction in suspension of popular players came with a reminder of the nasty reasons they’d been reprimanded in the first place. The recent news items have left both sports fans and casual observers asking what the hell is going on in the NFL?

The news has been nothing short of shocking. Last week, Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher shot and killed Kasandra Perkins, his girlfriend and the mother of his child, at their home. Belcher then drove to the Chiefs’ training facility and committed suicide. The announcement of the deaths was made on a game day, and the team played on. This week, Josh Brent, defensive tackle for the Dallas Cowboys, was charged with intoxication manslaughter in the death of his friend and teammate Jerry Brown. The next day, the Cowboys were on the field.

Also this week, an announcement was made regarding the reduction of suspensions for New Orleans Saints players involved in “bountygate” – a scheme in which players were rewarded for injuring opposing team members. Overall, it’s been a bad week for the NFL’s image – but not for its ratings or ticket sales. Is this clever PR at work?

The PR Verdict: “D” (PR Problematic) for the NFL. The tragedies shine a light on the difficult life of pro athletes, but why is there no impact on ticket sales?

The PR Takeaway: The show must go on, and sometimes instead of the company setting the tone, it’s better to take the PR cue from customers. The NFL hasn’t gone overboard in their reaction to the week’s events precisely because the customers haven’t. Like the fans, they express sympathy for the families of the deceased and acknowledge that players sometimes go overboard, but in this case, the NFL knows exactly what the hell it’s doing. Though it has been rather a bad week for the NFL, it’s business as usual – until, and unless, fans give a signal to the contrary.

Scouts’ Honor At Stake

scoutshonor 118x150 Scouts Honor At Stake

PR Verdict: “B” (Good Show) for the Boy Scouts.

In the past six days, headlines have heralded the downfall of Lance Armstrong and our presidential candidates’ heated debates. Yet it’s shocking that one news item gained only brief attention, especially given its name: The Boy Scouts of America Perversion Files.

That was the actual internal name for files kept on Scout volunteers who were accused of child sex abuse. The files date from 1965 to 1985 and number 1,247 “ineligible volunteers” – who were merely banned from further service. “In certain cases,” admits a Boy Scout statement, “our response to these incidents and our effort to protect youth were plainly insufficient, inappropriate, or wrong.” Bizarrely, the group only enacted a policy of contacting authorities in 2011, well after the scandal of the Catholic Church had entered national consciousness.

Charges are likely to be pressed and the headlines will inevitably resurface, but for the moment the Boy Scouts are out of the media firing line. The Scouts played their PR card well. Acknowledge the problem, apologize, then apologize again. Next, point to reforms (however late in the day) and assert that management has changed, at which point the news story might have a short shelf life and be on its way to disappearing. The Vatican may want to take notes.

The PR Verdict: “B” (Good Show) for The Boy Scouts of America. It’s uncomfortable for us to give a high grade given the circumstances, but the Scouts followed the PR handbook and, in so doing, neatly side-stepped the media spotlight.

The PR Takeaway: PR won’t make a crisis go away, but it can shorten its life span. From a PR perspective, the most striking point is how the Boy Scouts handled this issue versus the Catholic church. The Boy Scouts made it clear that these were largely accurate and truthful files and conceded the error of not bringing in the authorities. Though grave implications remain for the victims, the long-term PR impact on the Scouts already seems less substantive than what happened to the Catholic clergy faced with similar circumstances. Does it simply come down to effective PR?

What should The Boy Scouts of America do now to save their reputation? Give us your PR Verdict!