Roger Goodell's Press Conference: Did He Say Enough?

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell finally faced reporters today in an effort to save his job and quell growing public outrage over his poor handling of a domestic abuse case involving a player.

The Context

The crisis began when this video, showing Baltimore Ravens star Ray Rice dragging his fiancée’s unconscious body off an elevator, appeared on TMZ.

 

Despite seeing that video and confirming directly with Ray Rice that he had hit his fiancée, Goodell decided to suspend him for just two games, far less than many players get for smoking a joint. When TMZ released new video of Rice actually punching her, the public reaction was even more profound.

 

How Did He Do Today?

Goodell adhered to many crisis communications best practices. Among other things, he:

  1. 1. Apologized directly and unequivocally: “I got it wrong with the Ray Rice matter, and I apologize for that…I let myself down. I let everyone else down.”
  2. 2. Expressed his commitment to make it right: “We have seen too much of the NFL doing wrong. That starts with me…but now I will get it right and do whatever it takes to accomplish that.”
  3. 3. Appointed a third party investigator—former FBI director Robert Mueller—to examine the League’s handling of this situation and make recommendations to strengthen its personal conduct policies.
  4. 4. Partnered with and made significant financial contributions to domestic abuse organizations.
  5. 5. Brought in experts on domestic abuse to help the League improve its policies.
  6. 6. Conveyed a serious tone that made clear that he was chastened by this incident and committed to doing better.

Roger Goodell Press Conference

 

And Yet…

There are times when checking all of the “Crisis Communications 101” boxes isn’t enough, and when doing many of the right things simply comes too late.

What’s inescapable is that Mr. Goodell is only giving this press conference now because he missed numerous opportunities to do the right thing when he originally had the chance. He appeared to blame the League’s pathetic two-game suspension of Rice on an outdated personal conduct policy written in 2007, as if domestic abuse is a new issue that’s cropped up in the past seven years.

As a result, this entire press conference was reactive, not proactive. It was done out of necessity, not choice, which tends to at least partially undercut even the most sincere statements of apology. 

 

The Question I’m Still Left Asking

It appears that the NFL, rightfully bruised by this crisis, has finally committed to taking this issue more seriously. But Mr. Goodell failed to answer one critical question during his press conference: Why does he need to be the person to lead the NFL through these changes? Why is this man, who just a few months ago thought that a brutal assault of a woman warranted a mere two-game suspension, the best person to demonstrate the seriousness with which the NFL suddenly treats this topic?

As the clip above shows, Goodell tries to answer that by saying that he’s still capable of leading since he has now acknowledged his mistake. That’s a thin rationale, and it’s one that appears at odds with the stance he takes with players. As Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith tweeted: 

Torrey Smith

 

Will His Press Conference Work?

Goodell’s job today wasn’t to end the crisis but to staunch the bleeding. He might have succeeded in that.

Appearing before cameras—even if his performance was far from perfect—might serve to take some of the air out of this story. He might even get lucky if another non-NFL sports crisis breaks and distracts reporters and fans from the NFL’s problems for a while.

The League’s owners appear to be giving him time to make things right. Based on today’s performance, my hunch is that he’ll hang on as commissioner for a while and that his resignation isn’t imminent. What do you think?

 

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