Hoping to defuse a growing public relations crisis, the Baltimore Ravens announced that the team was terminating the contract of three-time all-Pro running back, Ray Rice and the NFL announced that it was suspending him indefinitely following the release of a video showing him punching his then fiancée, now wife, Janay in February. While this is both the right thing to do and proper way to handle a public relations crisis of such magnitude, it won’t be enough for the NFL or the Ravens.
Why isn’t it enough? Because during the summer when a hotel video surfaced showing Rice dragging Janay unconscious out of an elevator, both the NFL and Ravens basically failed to take any action at what was obviously domestic violence. The NFL gave Rice a two game suspension (remember Pete Rose was banned for life from Major League Baseball for gambling and Donald Sterling was banned for life from the NBA for racist statements).
And the Ravens? The team took no disciplinary action at the time. Indeed, Ravens head coach, John Harbaugh said of Rice at the time “he is one heck of a guy,” and the Ravens tweeted “Janay Rice says she deeply regrets the role that she played the night of the incident.” Basically the team sided with the abuser over the victim.
All of this comes at a time when the NFL brand is suffering from bullying in the locker room, players driving drunk and carrying weapons, a lawsuit over brain injuries from concussions in the game, and a drug and steroids policy that some consider outdated. Even today’s actions may not be enough to convince some that the Ravens and the NFL understand domestic violence.
So what should they do from a public relations standpoint?
- Ban Ray Rice from the game for life. This will send a strong and clear message that the NFL has zero tolerance for domestic violence.
- Require classes on domestic violence and sensitivity training for all players and NFL personnel.
- Work with organizations involved in dealing with domestic violence and victims of domestic violence, and contribute financially to such organizations.
- Have NFL players become spokespersons denouncing domestic violence.
- NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell should speak to the media, apologize for not taking a stronger stand earlier and meting out a stiffer punishment to Rice when the story first broke several months ago, and explain what steps the NFL has taken and will be taking.
- Work with owners in strict enforcement of the new NFL code of conduct.
- Apologize for not taking disciplinary action earlier with Rice.
- Announce a formal internal investigation to see if anyone knew about these actions earlier or may have even helped cover up some of this story early on.
- Work with domestic abuse advocates in Baltimore in creating greater awareness of domestic violence through an active community relations program.
- Make players available as spokespersons against domestic violence.
- Require mandatory sensitivity training and education on domestic violence.
- Run advertisements apologizing to fans for their failure to take earlier action against Rice and restate their commitment against domestic violence.
- Make significant contributions to domestic violence organizations.
The Ray Rice story is deplorable. It is without a shadow of a doubt a failure of leadership when the first story broke and a major public relations debacle for the Ravens and the NFL. It is also an opportunity for both to repair their public image and brand identity if now handled correctly in their communications and actions.