New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez was arrested yesterday for murder and five other counts of gun-related crimes. In addition to Hernandez, the Cleveland Browns’ Ausar Walcott was also arrested yesterday for attempted murder.
Unfortunately for the NFL, these incidents are becoming common occurrences. According to Business Insider there have been 27 arrests since February’s Super Bowl. This exceeds last year’s total, which reached 25 arrests by July 2012.
From a PR perspective, the NFL has been playing it safe, perhaps a little too safe. That is, throughout the last several years arrests and incarcerations of NFL players are handled with apologetic statements and expressions of disappointment. Players are usually suspended and fined, but are then typically allowed to return to action on the cash-cow’s main stage.
There is no debating the NFL’s brand strength; just look at its roughly $9 billion in annual revenues. Still, sustaining these kinds of PR disruptions could gradually erode the NFL’s image.
So what should the NFL communications strategy be?
There are several steps the league can take to bolster its reputation and reinforce the idea that the game is played decent citizens rather than villains. Here are a few ideas:
- Stronger community building initiatives: The NFL does reach out to communities throughout the country and there is no debating it engages in philanthropic endeavors. Nevertheless, it may be in the league’s best interest to spearhead more youth education programs that encourage kids to steer clear of unlawful situations. Take, for example, the PGA’s involvement in The First Tee program.
- Less tolerance for severe offenders: Maybe the next time a player commits a crime that doesn’t align with league’s values then maybe that player shouldn’t be invited back to play?
- An intuitive player support network: NFL players are human, and they deal with many of the same problems that the average person faces. However, they are constantly under the societal microscope and that may prevent some of them from seeking the help they need. The NFL and its players may benefit from programs that identify burgeoning problems and provide support to the players who need it.
- Stop apologizing and address the problem: There are only so many times you can say you’re sorry before people stop believing you. The NFL can cry wolf only so much. It’s really that simple.
Follow Caysey Welton: @CayseyW