The National Football League has endured a slew of issues and crises in the past five years.
Perhaps related to football’s violence and repeated head trauma, current and former players also experience issues with domestic violence.
An infamous wardrobe malfunction during the league’s main spectacle in 2018 caused a hubbub. Similarly, last year’s Super Bowl halftime show, featuring pop singers Jennifer Lopez and Shakira, resulted in more than 1,000 complaints to the Federal Communications Commission.
Yet some critics contend the league crosses the line weekly, as cheerleaders, gyrate suggestively on the sidelines, often for low wages. Moreover, some cheerleaders allege a culture of subjugation and sexual misbehavior (more on this below).
Perhaps the game’s best-known controversy and one that transcended sports, dates to 2016. That’s when a star player, Colin Kaepernick, chose to kneel during the national anthem prior to a preseason game. Kaepernick intended to highlight racial disparities, including police brutality against Black people.
The public’s and the president’s reaction to Kaepernick’s action was yet another issue that divided the country.
Kaepernick: Bad to Worse
The NFL didn’t help. It badly mishandled the situation, initially attacking Kaepernick, yet ultimately admitting it should have listened to him more.
For some, that apology, from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, was too little, too late and more a reaction to the murder of George Floyd in late May 2020.
To this day, Kaepernick has not found a job as a player in the NFL, despite a controversial audition in Nov. 2019.
And the Kaepernick affair has legs. Not long before our press time, media reports said journalist Katie Couric, in a forthcoming book, writes that she edited down comments from Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg about Kaepernick in a 2016 Yahoo! News interview.
The progressive icon and a sitting justice, Ginsburg, then 83, unleashed an un-progressive critique of Kaepernick in a session with Couric. A “big fan” of Ginsburg, Couric allegedly writes that her editing was a way of “protecting” the jurist, two newspapers report.
And we’ve yet to mention what could become the NFL’s biggest PR issue, its version of the Panama Papers, a trove of material that yields multiple stories.
In the NFL example, it’s a collection of 650,00 emails unearthed as part of an investigation into sexual harassment at the former Washington Redskins offices.
It’s a strange investigation (or maybe not) because the NFL hasn’t released findings or the email.
No Word on Snyder Report
As crisis pros know, when you don’t release findings, something’s usually amiss. Is the NFL protecting Washington owner Dan Snyder? Seems so.
True, a few emails leaked, which resulted in the resignation of Jon Gruden, coach of the Las Vegas Raiders, Oct. 11. Gruden’s emails to Bruce Allen, the former Washington president, allegedly contained homophobic and racist slurs.
Still, with all these issues swirling, the NFL, arguably, has never been stronger. Its 2021 ratings so far are up nearly 20 percent. And that’s at a time when overall TV viewing has declined 20 percent during the pandemic period.
Meyer’s Ohio Visit
And we’ve not even mentioned the subject of the Crisis Averted. A few weeks ago, fabled college coach Urban Meyer, in his first year coaching in the NFL, he was featured in videos and photos.
A married father of three, Meyer, 57, was shown in his Ohio restaurant with a young woman leaning on him.
Meyer stayed in Ohio after his team, the Jacksonville Jaguars, lost its fifth straight game. The team flew back to Florida without him. Meyer said he’d be visiting family in Ohio. The woman in the videos and photo is not a member of Meyer’s family.
Meyer apologized promptly, Oct. 4. After that, another video hit social media. In it, Meyer is touching the young woman’s bottom.
The next day, Jaguars owner Shad Khan issued a statement. He called Meyer’s conduct “inexcusable...Now, he must regain our trust and respect. That will require a personal commitment from Urban to everyone who supports, represents or plays for our team. I am confident he will deliver.”
No Crisis to Avert
Was the crisis averted? Arthur Solomon, a veteran PR pro who worked in sports promotion for years, says there was no crisis.
“A crisis effects the economy, people’s lives...Boeing was a crisis. This wasn’t, it’s a minor sports PR problem...most people don’t even know who Urban Meyer is,” he says.
Solomon agrees the situation “isn’t good optics” for the team or the NFL, but he believes it could have been worse.
The apology, he says, was fine. Solomon likes that the owner did it himself and spoke plainly. He adds, though, Khan might have gone a step more and fined Meyer or asked him to donate to a worthy charity.
We ask about the incident and perhaps its main audience, sports radio and television. The critics were out in force opining about the story. Many said Meyer had ‘lost the locker room’ and the respect of his players.
Solomon, who’s been in a lot of professional sports locker rooms, scotches that argument. “Most of these sports pundits have never been in a locker room. They don’t know what players talk about in there...the players are mostly interested in winning the next game.” So are the fans, he adds.
On that note, Meyer is happy today. The team won its first game Oct. 17. It had lost 20 in a row.