Its Not Just Me with Black Marks on My Permanent Record – The NFL Joins the Party

Suddenly the news cycle and our vocabularies are filled with domestic violence, Ray Rice, Greg Hardy and Roger Goodell.  It grew and spread faster than the firestorm that took down the Oakland Hills in 1991.  And then we threw Adrian Peterson and Jonathon Dwyer into the mix and the news cycle exploded all over again.  The only thing that surprised me was the national reaction.

Let me be very clear.  I am in no way excusing or condoning domestic violence or hitting women or children.  If it helps, replace the term domestic violence with “act we can all agree is completely and utterly wrong”.  It just happens to be the foundational issue that brings my focus the news circus.

When Roger Goodell gave Ray Rice a 2 game suspension and fined him an additional game check, there was near universal outcry – except of course from the Baltimore Ravens and their fans – that it was far too lenient.  After all, smoking pot gets you 4 games and it is legal in in 2 states recreationally and medically in many more.  I sat and wondered, really?  Not about the outcry, but about the on-going public reaction.

Early on I realized and I’ve tried to reinforce with my kids the underlying concept of the world:  Life is NOT fair.  The sooner you realize it and work with that, the easier it is get past the frequent disappointments you inevitably run across.  As much as we may hope and want it to be so, life and work is not a meritocracy.  Being born extremely rich can open doors and smooth out rough spots that many others are burdened with.    Money solves many issues.  Especially when you have way more than any one person needs.

In the workplace, it is not about wealth.  It is about connections, politics and perceived value.  Surely I’m not the only one who has worked with people who were seemingly rewarded for acts others were fired for committing?    Or that imbecile running a department or division because she’s someone else’s favorite child, yet continually making bad decisions, running off the talent and seemingly failing to the top.  Surely you recognize someone similar.  Maybe it’s the executive who swears and rudely belittles people in public, but is protected because he holds the key to (what is perceived to be) a key customer.  It leaves you scratching your head doesn’t it?  What happened to the HR policies about respect, diversity and open doors?  Sadly, they are often conveniently forgotten.

Managers generally make decisions and take action based upon what they believe is in their best interest.  People rarely sacrifice their best interests for what’s best for the company, especially now that “lifetime employment” is no longer part of the implied social contract or business topology.  Roger Goodell giving Ray Rice a gentle, $1million slap on the wrist was what he perceived to be in best interests of the NFL.  It definitely benefited the Ravens.  As you recall, there was a lot of hullabullo and vitriol, but nothing changed.

What changed was the leak of the video.  That surprised me, because it showed exactly what I assumed happened.  What really happened is that all the people willing to not care, suddenly looked foolish.  Not because anything changed, but everything changed.  People were forced to confront what they wanted to assume didn’t exist.  It was no longer ok to move forward.  And when people mass, so do the advertisers.  In a nutshell, let’s be honest, societal pressure was going to build on the advertisers.  That is what the NFL caved to, not the public.  Season tickets were sold.  TV contracts are measured in billions.  But the advertisers have clout.  The advertisers saw what could happen and acted.  Anheuser-Busch and Procter and Gamble made moves that may have been telegraphed prior to their announcements.

Whether it was those specific moves of the realization they were coming is what moved the NFL.  Society can make changes, albeit small ones, through the government.  Capitalism is what moves business.  In my experience, and I have worked with several myopic executives, the through process usually goes something like this:

  1. What do I want?
  2. What makes ME the most money/how does it affect the stock price?
  3. Will anyone notice or care?
  4. What is the right thing to do?

To my way of thinking that is the order the NFL thought until people and advertisers noticed.  That is where the income is generated and has the potential to affect the game and its owners.  If the think about it, I’m sure you’ve seen similar reactions in your work environments.  And you aren’t on TV.

We have all seen the sales person who generates sales but lacks in other areas.  Perhaps they are selfish and not team players, putting their success above anyone else’s results.  I was once called to HR I dared to suggest that a sales executive should be able to file, retain and retrieve the monthly production sales report.  It was Wednesday and the report had been distributed on Monday.  She considered this harassment.  Nothing came of it because she harassed at least twice each quarter according to her.  Of course nothing was done to change her behavior.  She was deemed important, similar to Ray Rice and what I can only assume where his jersey sales.

Another time everyone was going out to celebrate the new job the sales manager had gotten and was sad he was leaving.  I was in the minority because I believed that the fact that he had slept with 4 of his subordinates as well as several other women in the company, was sexual harassment and his exit was good riddance.   I was quickly educated that I was wrong and I should get over my tired ethics.  I’m sad to report my ethics have not changed and I fully believe that sleeping with your subordinates is wrong.  Of course there are exceptions and there are processes, but in this case, I always felt like there was a very dirty element in this instance.

And of course there was the VP I worked for that made every decision based on how it made him look.  Because of his tenure and connections, it took wasting millions of dollars and exiling too much talent before his name was presented for a trip to the corporate gallows’ pole.  To my mind that was a form of workplace abuse.  I’m sure it is far more common than we think.  It was when I realized ideals were important, but being right was not enough.  Life was not a meritocracy.  Work was not a test where the right answer got you an A.  Sometimes, you have to purposefully get thing wrong to be seen as successful.

So while what Adrian Peterson, Ray Rice, and others in the NFL have done is deplorable, exacerbated by Goodell’s meat -handed handling and been too visible in the news cycle, it has been happening in business for years.  In the past, it was probably even condoned.   After all, cronyism came from somewhere.  I’m encouraged to see the national spotlight moved to domestic problems that we have tolerated for too long.  And while we are at, maybe we continue to improve in other areas, holding people accountable for all of their actions, not just the ones we find convenient.

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