Friday, January 25, 2013

NFL Can't Afford an End Run Around its Crises -- And Neither Can You

The National Football League seems to have about as many crises as the White House. They're not quite on the same scale, but if you are spokesperson for the NFL, the crises will seem enormous. When you are in crisis, it can feel like you're carrying a 320-pound lineman on your back.

A few years ago, it was a work stoppage. Last year, it was the bounty crisis in New Orleans, which cost Sean Payton a full season of coaching. With the Super Bowl just over a week away, let's take a glance at the NFL crises making news these days.

The family of Junior Seau is suing the NFL, claiming the former San Diego linebacker's suicide was the result of brain disease caused by violent hits he sustained while playing football. The wrongful death lawsuit filed Wednesday blames the NFL for its "acts or omissions" that hid the dangers of repetitive blows to the head. It says Seau, 43, developed chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) from those hits, and accuses the NFL of deliberately ignoring and concealing evidence of the risks associated with traumatic brain injuries.

"An Associated Press review in November found that more than 3,800 players have sued the NFL over head injuries in at least 175 cases as the concussion issue has gained attention in recent years. More than 100 of the concussion lawsuits have been brought together before U.S. District Judge Anita B. Brody in Philadelphia."  (

The league responded by tightening rules against helmet-to-helmet contact, and teams are more careful to hold out players with concussion symptoms. Athletes at all levels are treated with caution as researchers learn more about the life-long affects of multiple concussions. Football head injuries are a smoldering crisis outside of the NFL also.

"CBS won’t dare play party pooper by airing an in-depth report on the wrongful death suit.... CBS, which has billions invested in the NFL and is selling Super Bowl ads for an average of about $3.7 million, won’t cast a pall over a built-in excuse to get loaded, eat junk food and gamble on the biggest game of the year....

"Here is the real reason this story ain’t seeing the light of day: Any legit report on the lawsuit might actually force CBS to examine its role, and the role of the league’s other TV partners, in 'glorifying violence,' leaving fans with the impression that monster hits don’t lead to serious health problems down the road. That is what the Seau lawsuit alleges. From a media perspective, the lawsuit cracked open a large can of worms when it specifically targeted NFL Films for its role in willfully promoting the game’s savage side."  (

Speaking of savage, New England quarterback Tom Brady has been fined $100,000. In Sunday's AFC championship game, he was forced from the pocket and ran three yards before giving himself up and sliding. When he did, he brought up his right leg and kicked Baltimore's Ed Reed. He didn't get a penalty on the field, but he did receive a league fine later.

Okay, that's not a real crisis. Players are fined all the time. The crisis here is the inconsistency of NFL's system of fines. Compare Brady's $100,000 fine with one $500 more than that given to San Francisco's Frank Gore Sunday. His crime wasn't a brutal hit. No, he wore his socks too low, an equipment violation. (

In the NFL's eyes, low socks are a bit more serious than kicking an opponent in the thigh.

In other news off the field, former Oakland Raiders coach Bill Callahan denied allegations made by former receivers Tim Brown and Jerry Rice that he sabotaged the Raiders in their 2003 Super Bowl loss to Tampa Bay 10 years ago.

They claim Callahan lost the game because of his close friendship with Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden by altering the game plan less than two days before Oakland’s 48-21 loss.

“While I fully understand a competitive professional football player’s disappointment when a game’s outcome doesn’t go his team’s way, I am shocked, saddened and outraged by Tim Brown’s allegations and Jerry Rice’s support of those allegations made through various media outlets over the last 24 hours,” Callahan said Tuesday in a statement. “To leave no doubt, I categorically and unequivocally deny the sum and substance of their allegations.”

Those are just about the same denial words that New Orleans' coaches used when the story about offering bounties to injure other players first broke. Let's see over time if this denial too has as many holes as a cheesehead's hat.

Like football players, crises come in all sizes. Be prepared with a crisis communications plan to deal with yours.

1 comment:

Sean Clancy said...

Good column Dan with one small note. The Tom Brady fine was $10,000, not $100,000. And the Frank Gore fine was $10,500, which is ridiculous as you point out.