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The road ahead for the NFL, and lessons for current, future executives

vada-o-manager-picOp-ed published in Sports Business Journal September 29, 2014, Page 21

The self-admitted mishandling of the Ray Rice situation by both the Baltimore Ravens and NFL Commissioner

Roger Goodell has been painful to observe for sports business professionals or, even closer to home, any father with daughters. It is reasonable to expect that any multibillion-dollar corporation would be equipped to anticipate potential value-eroding personnel events. Good governance policies matter, whether you are the local grocery store or a popular sports league. The NBA also has raised the bar for promptly and unequivocally managing a threat to its business and reputation.

That said, what should the NFL do now, and what lessons will be recounted for future executives reading the inevitable MBA case studies?

1. Negotiate and enforce a clearly articulated, zero-tolerance, personal-conduct policy framework in crucial life areas, such as sexual assault, domestic abuse and child endangerment. These should be enforced as aptly named: zero tolerance. Had the NFL adopted such strong policies following the 1999 murder case involving Carolina’s Rae Carruth, or more recently with Kansas City’s Jovan Belcher in 2012, perhaps it could have negated the alleged “lobbying” that resulted in an initial lighter penalty for Rice.

2. Transparency is a disinfectant and can protect both the accused and the adjudicating organization. Be a “first mover” with damning news to maintain some degree of control of the broader situation and narrative. If the disturbing elevator video was indeed suppressed, that is problematic. Someone knows it exists — they always do. We have all seen leaked social media photos of deceased celebrities; nothing is secret.

3. Ensure diverse voices are represented around the table in policymaking. The fabled “male, pale and stale” approach departed with the Betamax. The Rooney Rule proves the NFL can get policy right.

This is not the time for spin; only innovative transformational ideas matter. Unfortunately, due to the NFL’s admitted lack of preparation, its future remedies will now be moreso directed by a credible third-party expert embodied in former FBI Director Robert Mueller.

This NFL cultural reform should have been implemented earlier by the league’s owners, executives, the players association and perhaps even their spouses, who could have complemented education and prevention efforts.

Vada O. ( is a former Nike executive and current co-leader of APCO’s Sports Business Practice. He is also the CEO of Global Consulting Group, a diversified global strategy firm. Follow him on Twitter @VadaManager.

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