As someone who works in Public Interest Research Groups (PIRGs), following stories and mobilizing (either through social media or some sort of direct action) on a whole range of issues is just a part of a typical day for me. From sustainable food systems to worker’s rights, there is not a single day that passes where I am not browsing four different news syndicates, three different academic articles, a blog post or two, and tweeting/tumbling/posting/etc. on the issue de jour.
The Reprimand of Ray Rice is no different. Seconds, and I mean seconds, after the video was released to the public, Twitter exploded. Petitions to have the NFL change their policies garnered over 80,000 signatures. In response to sports casters, news anchors (I’m looking right at you, Fox News & Friends), and citizens alike who were making light of a serious issue, individuals started the #WhyIStayed discussion on Twitter. These individuals, of all genders and ages, talked about why they stayed in abusive relationships.
NFL Erroneously Banked on their Fan Support
The most important discussion, however, focused on the NFL’s initial response to act of abuse by Rice, a paltry two game suspension. This is not the first time the NFL has dealt with scandal. The usual method is for them to quietly reprimand their players, release a small statement, and bank on the strength and size of their NFL fan community to have any debacles gone from the public eye in a day or two. Brand recovery never entered the minds of NFL top officials as the usual cut and dry tactics worked in July when the initial suspensions were given. Yes, there were a couple dissenting voices, angry over the blatant disregard of the serious of the offence, but their usual method worked and Rice was forgotten the next day.
Just imagine the shock of Roger Goodell, the NFL commissioner, waking up to the TMZ release of a video that his office had reportedly seen previously to their initial punishment. Now their usual method is being openly critiqued and criticized, and the NFL acted like a deer in headlights: stunned, stammering, and trying to find the quickest way to run back into the woods.
How does the NFL recover from this?
The backlash against the NFL was huge – and rightfully so – in the wake of all of these details. So how does a brand come back from such a massive exposé? It’s simple.
- Apologize sincerely and openly.
- Actually change the thing that caused the backlash. I don’t care if it’s iconic or has been a policy since the beginning of time, you fix it.
- Donate to an organization that is a frontline service to whatever issue is at the root of this, and donate a lot of money. Put your money where your mouth is.
- Meet with some of the more important individuals in the discussion of your backlash, such as leaders in the community, survivors, frontline workers, etc. Let them look at your changes, and actually listen to their suggestions. Follow through on their suggestions; keep them updated in your progress.
- Don’t do it again. I’m serious.
If brands just followed these 5 steps, the recovery process would be simple and sincere. The trust could be rebuilt and the loyalty strengthened. To date, the NFL has completed step 1 and 2 by apologizing openly and changing their Personal Conduct Policy.
It seems like step 4 was completed in the assessment process of the Personal Conduct Policy, but I haven’t seen any of the frontrunners of the conversation discussing if they were involved in consultation. They have not donated any money to date – my suggestion would be Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network (RAINN) (which has a 86% rating on Charity Navigator). And, as we are in the early aftermath days, step 5 has not been achieved.
But, as with all recoveries, you can’t say you are fully healed until it’s no longer a part of your existence.