Timing is critical when crisis hits the fan. Even when a brand responds well, if they appear to drag their feet, are slow to be fully transparent or hang back putting their most trusted emissaries on the line, they can lose monumentally. That’s what the NFL faces now and the question becomes, what will they do now? The Deshaun Watson suspension has just unleashed a cyclone of complexity. But if the League is more than the words that come out of their mouth about supporting women and not tolerating sexual misconduct, Watson’s 6 game suspension can’t end there.
Imagine that “sportwashing” actually exists as per LIV golf. Then imagine the League, team and player are now mired in sports’ muddiest of mud pits. It’s not just women battling the DW judgement, it’s men too. It includes men who refuse to be lumped on the other side of their mothers, sisters, daughters, wives, girlfriends- an estimated half of professional football’s hard-earned fanbase.
Navigating this evolving narrative will be tricky for the League and for the Browns. But there are some straight forward actions they can take in the heat of this long dragged out PR crisis.
It starts with acting quickly and overriding the admittedly light punishment. To protect the brand’s reputation the League shouldn’t wait the available three days to appeal the decision. If the League appeals, the issue then rests in the hands of the Commissioner to add games to suspension. The backlash and cost would be much less than what they’re facing with the arguably light suspension. The commissioner’s job is different than an arbiter – he needs to protect the League, owners, etc. It’s also inevitable that other players, coaches and teams will choose to draw a distinct line between Deshaun and themselves. The sooner the better.
The NFL has just been diagnosed with the worst case of COPD imaginable. They’re choking right now. Whatever action they take from here, they’ll be debilitated and gasping for air all season long.