learning, that is, challenging current beliefs.
For example, in a recent class discussion on the NFL concussion issue, a popular thought surfaced that hypothesized the NFL is responsible for delivering a top-notch sports product and not in solving concussion issues. Implied here, concussions are not the responsibility of the NFL, so why is Commissioner Roger Goodell the object of public scrutiny? I am going to suggest it is because he asked for it!
Let me explain. There is little doubt that the NFL is the premier sports organization. It hits all the high notes in terms of dollars, durability, and dominance. But, it also seems to have invited itself to be the poster child for concussions. I offer a comparison of two sports leagues: NFL and NASCAR.
While I have not conducted an investigation into this, some facts should be self-evident:
- Both organizations are engaged in activities that can result in injury, and even, death;
- Both have had incidents that signaled a call to action, With the NFL it is the concussion issues; and with NASCAR it was the blunt force trauma death of racing icon Dale Earnhardt;
- Both have responded to these events, but in quite a different manner.
- The NFL took the "Tobacco Road" choosing to create the illusion of addressing the problem; while NASCAR responded to Earnhardt's 's death with all of its resources deployed.
The ultimate strategy is the one that always works best in dealing with the public: one based on honesty, transparency, and engagement. That is, face the brutal reality, maintain transparency so that the truth is able to surface, and engage the publics with a sincere and vested interest in a solution.
In our class discussion, a student suggested that had the NFL immediately admitted that players were prone to concussion the result would have been immediate havoc and imminent disaster. Perhaps. But, not if the NFL were to properly frame their role in the issue and knowledgeably articulate that concussions are a fact-of-life in all contact sports. For example, there is higher incidence of concussion in pugilistic sports and oddly enough, steeplechase. Further, there is evidence that sub-concussions also present long-term, chronic health issues. Does that mean we should stop playing all vigorous and contact-related sports? Of course not. The challenge is to deal with reality and seek real solutions—just as NASCAR genuinely demonstrated.
As it usually turns out, in this case too, the truth is the ultimate strategy in public relations.
If you want to learn more about the NFL's "re-lived tobacco strategy" check out League of Denial, both a book and Peabody Award winning documentary, by Steve Fainaru and Mark Fainaru-Wada.