One of the most recent immediate crises making national headlines is the case of football star Ray Rice. Footage of Rice punching his then fiance Janay Palmer (now his wife) and knocking her unconscious in an elevator has been released. The footage was not obtained by the National Football League (NFL), but by TMZ, a celebrity gossip site. Originally, the Baltimore Ravens suspended Rice for only two games. Since then, the NFL has responded by terminating his contract with the Ravens and suspending him from the NFL indefinitely.
When discussing this crisis, there are a number of factors to consider:
- Establishing a timeline. The incident occurred 7 months ago, in February 2014. Has the NFL known about the incident since then? Determining whether or not the NFL had knowledge of the incident is a key part of its response to the crisis.
- Determining what role the NFL played in the leak. Did the NFL have access to the footage prior to its leak? According to TMZ creator Harvey Levin, the NFL not only had knowledge of the incident when it occurred in February (he was indicted for third-degree assault in March), but also had access to the footage, although Commissioner Roger Goodell did not even seek it out.
- Janay Rice’s role in the incident. Did the fact that Janay decided to go through with marriage only a month after the incident have anything to do with how “lightly” the situation was originally handled by the NFL?
In my opinion, there is enough blame to go around for everyone. Ray & Janay Rice (and their attorneys) knew about the incident and should have been preparing for a Public Relations nightmare ever since. (It is clear that they did not anticipate Rice’s career-ruining outcome.)
The NFL should be held to a much more scrupulous standard. Whether Commissioner Goodell had seen the footage or not, he knew about the incident because Rice was indicted for it months ago. The NFL could have accessed this video and addressed it immediately after the incident occurred. At the very least, a statement should have been released that the NFL was investigating the details of the incident, punishing Rice accordingly and assuring the public that they have a zero tolerance policy for players involved in domestic violence issues. Domestic violence is a serious issue, so there would likely be an uproar regardless of the NFL’s actions. However, they could have easily began managing the crisis in the Pre-Crisis stage, before it gained national coverage and blew up in their faces. Had they taken the horse by the reins, the NFL would not be dealing with such backlash. At this point, public opinion of the NFL is not only that they are slow to respond to immediate issues, but that they withhold information to save the NFL’s reputation and the reputation of its players.