"Remember, Ray Rice was not cut because they saw that video. He is cut because you saw that video."I am by no means an expert on domestic violence, or how to prevent it. The pieces I read by Roxane Gay, Liz Gumbinner and Rebecca Wolf are better than anything I could ever write on the topic.
— Joshua DuBois (@joshuadubois) September 8, 2014
I do have some knowledge in crisis communications and how companies and leaders demonstrate accountability in the aftermath of big mistakes. That's what this post is about.
The National Football League is one of the most prolific sources of entertainment in the United States. Its owners and leadership earn profits in large part thanks to a special set of rules and benefits few other businesses get - preferential tax treatment, public subsidies and infrastructure support, business-friendly hiring practices, and so on. They are the yachts William Carlos Williams wrote about in my favorite poem.
So I'm not surprised when the league develops rules of conduct that seem arbitrary to the rest of us. I'm not surprised when they employ circular logic to defend the indefensible. I'm not surprised by the league's reaction when they are suddenly held to the standards others face every day.
Here's the thing. There's a difference between saying something and doing something. There's a difference between apologizing to someone and making them whole again. There's a difference between saying you have a new policy and actually implementing that policy. There's a difference between saying you're accountable and actually being accountable.
Ray Rice hit his fiance in an elevator - knocking her unconscious - and then dragged her out of the elevator. He admitted doing this. The NFL had all of the facts and gave him a 2-week suspension.
When the NFL got overwhelming criticism for this decision, the commissioner admitted "they got it wrong" and announced a new policy. The first time you do something like this you get a 6-week suspension, the second time you're fired. Rice's suspension, however, remained at 2 games.
Three days later, two NFL employees were arrested on domestic violence charges. To date, neither has been disciplined under the new policy.
Then a video emerged confirming the facts the NFL already had and confirming what Rice said he did. No one has suggested, at least publicly, that Rice lied or misled the league. The facts haven't changed. However, Rice is now fired. He has been held accountable.
The NFL commissioner insists that no one at the NFL saw this "new" video. Others have suggested this is not the case. Either way, the video does not offer new facts.
The commissioner says "the buck stops with me" and when it comes to the NFL's errors in appropriately enforcing rules, "I'm accountable for that."
The NFL commissioner is embarrassed. He's apologetic.
He hasn't been held accountable.
And that's why the NFL hasn't stopped the damage yet.