In recent weeks, the NFL (National Football League) and its commissioner Roger Goodell have provided a good example of bad crisis management.
We’re referring, of course, to Goodell’s handling of the Ray Rice domestic violence investigation. When the NFL learned that Rice, who played for the Baltimore Ravens, hit his then-fiancee, Goodell issued Rice a two-game suspension. Later, a video surfaced – showing the abuse in graphic detail. As a result, the NFL and Goodell received blistering criticism from women’s groups, politicians, the media, and some current and former players — not to mention the general public. The feeling was that the NFL had gone easy on Rice.
As public outrage and calls for the commissioner’s resignation continued to build, Goodell held a 45-minute news conference on September 19. A lot went wrong:
- The news conference was criticized before it even began. One criticism was how long Goodell waited before holding it – nearly two weeks after the Rice video surfaced. Also, Goodell was 15 minutes late to the conference.
- Security at the news conference was lax. At one point, the event was interrupted by a prankster who screamed, “Don’t take me to an elevator,” as security dragged him away.
- Throughout the conference, Goodell came across as cold and detached – lacking passion or even the appearance of sincerity. When a reporter asked him what he’d say to the mother in Minnesota who was conflicted about her two children wearing Adrian Peterson jerseys (Peterson is a Minnesota Viking charged with felony child abuse), he gave a long (one minute), rambling answer which began with comparing some of the NFL’s problems to those of the broader society. The better response would have been to say something like, “I’d tell her that I understand why she’s conflicted.” Then he could have gone on to put the NFL violence issue into perspective.
- Goodell frequently was evasive and failed to provide direct answers to tough questions. For example, when asked how many conversations he had with corporate sponsors (including Anheuser- Busch) who may have suggested they might pull out, he sidestepped the question.
To be clear, Goodell is a media-savvy guy with loads of experience interacting with reporters. To his credit, he went to the news conference with some key messages, and delivered them – repeatedly, including during the Q&A. He spotted potential traps – refusing to answer hypothetical questions, and correcting errors he heard from reporters. But his missteps were significant and numerous. So it wasn’t surprising that the likes of sports commentators such as Bob Costas and Troy Aikman panned his performance.
At The Ammerman Experience, we tell clients that there are four types of media interactions executives and others need to master: informational interviews, remote or satellite interviews, press briefings and news conferences. Goodell showed that he was not up to the task on at least one of those four. Please see our effective media communications page to learn more about the four types of media interactions.
Want to watch Goodell’s news conference? View it on YouTube.