September 16, 2014
The Ray Rice Crisis: A PR Nightmare for the NFL
Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the last month, chances are you are aware of the Ray Rice domestic violence scandal that has shaken the NFL to its core. After discovering that Rice, a running back for the Baltimore Ravens, had punched his then-fiancée in an elevator and knocked her out, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell gave Rice a two-game suspension, setting off a firestorm of outrage from women’s groups and people everywhere.
Just when the NFL thought things were starting to settle down, along comes TMZ to release a more extensive videotape of the elevator incident. The tape, showing Rice actually hitting his now-wife with a left hook to the head, then dragging her out and putting her face-first on the floor outside the elevator, prompted more outrage, forcing the Ravens to cut Rice and the NFL to suspend him indefinitely. However, now the questions loom as to who knew what, when did they know it and did the league have access to this videotape when Rice was given the two-game suspension. A PR nightmare for the NFL, there are several steps the league needs to take to weather the storm.The league has already taken a strong first step by appointing former FBI director Robert Mueller to oversee the investigation into how the league handled the incident and how evidence was handled. By bringing in an independent party with Mueller’s credentials, the league is sending a message that it wants a quick and thorough resolution to the matter.A critical part of how this will play out for Goodell and the NFL will be how well they appear to accept responsibility for any missteps along the way. As with most PR crisis situations, being honest often goes far in helping to resolve the matter. The current question most are asking is whether the NFL had the newest tape in its possession at the time they gave Rice his two-game suspension. Law enforcement says they did, while the league disputes that claim. If it’s found the league did have the tape, standing up early as possible and accepting responsibility will help.
To regain the public’s trust in the league, many possibilities exist. Some have called for Goodell to step down as Commissioner, but others think if the league takes a strong stand on the issue of domestic violence the crisis may be resolved. Several other players are currently dealing with domestic violence charges, so the league has an opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to protecting women and deterring this behavior in its players. As for Rice, opinion is mixed as to whether he should be allowed to play again. Most experts believe if he stays out of the league for a year or two, completes the appropriate counseling programs and works with domestic violence groups he can restore his image enough to get a second chance. However the situation plays out, it’s a black eye for the NFL that may take longer than anyone wants to heal properly.