A Junto Strategy Project
To say that the past few weeks have been bad for the NFL is an understatement. From horrible images of domestic violence against women and children to organizations flip-flopping on discipline, the hits (unfortunately not the ones on the field) just keep on coming for the NFL. It is a minefield and right now no one from the players to team owners to NFL leadership seem to be able to avoid hitting an ever increasing number of mines.
The NFL situation comes at an interesting time for me. This past week I had the opportunity to conduct two sessions at the Utah SHRM Crossroads Conference on creating a culture of ethical excellence. Talk about contrast. As I shared some of the research on ethics I had done with one of my Pepperdine colleagues in conjunction with a model I’ve developed to help organizations develop their ethical muscle, it was hard not to see how the NFL has literally fumbled in every single area. Drawing comparisons during the session made for some great discussion.
Analysts and pundits have, of course, had a field day with what is happening and I am sure it has been good for ratings. But there is one area of this situation that seems to have gotten little attention and that is the loss of legitimacy the NFL and in particular Roger Goodell are now experiencing. It is a loss from which they may never recover and from which they may only be experiencing the very initial impact of as they move forward. It would not shock me if we look back to this year as the turning point of the NFL as it moves from king of the hill to beggar at the bottom of the professional sports world.
I have posted before on the power of legitimacy and it’s impact. In each of the most recent incidents (Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, Jonathan Dwyer, and Greg Hardy), clear violations of the principles of legitimacy have been violated. If the NFL is to recover, it will not be the result of a new behavior policy. Harsher punishment will not restore what’s been lost because it is not really fixing the root of the violations that have destroyed legitimacy in the first place. If I had the chance to address the NFL owners and Mr. Goodell (which won’t be happening anytime soon), I would say “STOP forming policy. Your first priority should not be a focus on new policy with severe punishment but a hard look in the mirror to identify clearly how each of you and how this sport is violating the three basic tenets of legitimacy. Only then can we create an action plan that will restore what it has been lost and enable to create a set of policies that will put us back on the path to rebuilding trust and restoring our legitimacy.”