In recent years, through highly successful programs like Play60, licensed partnerships, and “Together We Make Football,” the National Football League has become an organization focused on family. That’s why it seemed a bit odd when NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell handed down a mere two-game suspension for Baltimore Ravens player Ray Rice after he was arrested for domestic violence.
Though the two-game suspension was in accordance with NFL policy, players, fans and journalists all spoke out against the ruling. In a league where a misdemeanor can get a player suspended for a quarter of the season, people felt Goodell took the issue too lightly and was setting a bad precedent. Last week — four weeks after his ruling — Goodell issued a mea culpa, admitting the two games were not enough and announcing that the league was revising its domestic abuse policies for all league personnel.
Could the NFL have prevented this reputational crisis? Yes. Like any organization, it’s important to think about your audience before making a decision. Ask yourself, what will the effect be on public opinion?
Despite a lack of forethought by the NFL, Goodell handled the resulting crisis well by not ignoring the reaction and by listening to what each group was saying. When he did react, he issued a well thought-out public apology, addressing concerns with an emphasis on what would happen in the NFL going forward. Additionally, he did not try to lay blame on the rule book or the organization and accepted that, as Commissioner, this error was on him.
Whether a company is worth $10 billion like the NFL or is a $150,000 startup, it is important to think about how your audience may react to your decisions on sensitive issues – especially when done in public. Without taking this into account, you may find yourself dealing with a crisis, and scrambling to save your reputation.