The NFL is one of the most recognized and popular brands in the nation. Even though the season from the opening game to the Super Bowl expands roughly five months, fans live and breathe this juggernaut of a sport 365 days a year. Even with the negatively clouded news of Aaron Hernandez the last two years, the NFL continues to draw in hundreds of millions of fans year after year. But has the NFL brand finally reached its tipping point? NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s handling of the domestic violence case involving Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice has brought to my attention how such a highly recognized championed brand like the NFL is being tainted by Brand Chumps.
On July 24th, Ray Rice was suspended for 2 games after allegations that he hit his then fiancé, Janay Palmer, at a casino in Atlantic City in February. Roger Goodell released a statement regarding Rice’s punishment, saying that he, “will be expected to continue to take advantage of the counseling and other professional services you identified in our meeting. As you noted, this additional assistance has been of significant benefit to you and your wife, and it should remain a part of your practice as appropriate. I believe that you are sincere in your desire to learn from this matter and move forward toward a healthy relationship and successful career. I am now focused on your actions and expect you to demonstrate by those actions that you are prepared to fulfill those expectations.” Even after this statement, Goodell received endless amounts of harsh backlash regarding the punishment that most people believed was not nearly enough. But all this changed and took a turn for the worst two days ago.
The Baltimore Ravens released Ray Rice on Monday morning and within the hour the NFL followed suit by suspending him indefinitely after TMZ released video footage from inside the elevator of Rice hitting Palmer with his left fist. This brutal and disturbing evidence was clearly enough for the Ravens organization and the NFL to officially cut ties and disassociate themselves from Ray Rice. But this begs the question, why didn’t the NFL and the Ravens investigate further rather than jumping to punish Rice with only a two game suspension, almost condoning domestic violence? According to NFL spokesman Greg Aiello, they requested footage from law enforcement, and the video was not made available to the NFL until Monday. According to TMZ, sources at the now closed Revel Hotel and Casino say that had the league asked for the tape, the casino would have handed it over “gladly.”
So how do you summarize the actions of Ray Rice? Obviously his choices that evening back in February were purely disgusting and in no situation ever should you strike a woman, let alone your fiancé. While most believe his career is done and he will never see a single snap on a football field again, there is still a window that will allow him to apply for reinstatement into the league. So whether another team brings him on or not, Ray Rice can officially be labeled as a Brand Chump for the NFL. Not only has he destroyed his own personal image, but he has infected the NFL brand, putting it into a negative light. All it takes is one Brand Chump to bring your company and brand down to its knees.
Aside from the Ray Rice case, the NFL had numerous off-field problems before the season even began; from Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay being arrested for a DUI and drug possession to Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount’s marijuana possession, there have been thirty player arrests. The NFL has had more than its fair share of brand and image problems, with most of these cases going without punishment. The fact that Roger Goodell and the NFL were so soft on the punishment for Ray Rice and failed to do a thorough investigation to get to the bottom of what really happened is just shameful and harmful to the image and brand. More so, how embarrassing is it that a tabloid like TMZ got their hands on and released the shocking video to the world?! The NFL has taken players’ behavior off the field so lightly with inconsistent punishments that communicate a sense of disconnect, un-organization, and lack of true leadership.
When mistakes and incidents happen like the recent events in the NFL, you have to find out all the facts and make sure you properly handle it in a prudent, straight forward, and appropriate manor that fits the violation. There CANNOT be any grey area when it comes to these punishments. Brand Champions are diligent to protect the company and brand from employees and situations that can tarnish and harm the reputation and financial well being of the company. Not doing everything you can to champion the brand, protect it, and properly discipline those that tarnish it is what turns you and your company into Brand Chumps! Unfortunately for Goodell, he has fallen into this chump category.
It’s time for Roger Goodell and the NFL to learn from the Ray Rice situation. They need to know from now on how to take the necessary procedures and form of action for those who are involved with domestic violence cases as well as all other NFL violations that are tarnishing the NFL brand. The league has to have a Brand Champion who is going to take a stand for the NFL brand to protect its image, reputation and overall financial well being . Similarly, we have to do the same for our own companies and take a stand when needed to in order to Champion our Brand, protect it and allow no one to tarnish it!