No Rays of Hope

If you get your jollies from watching organizations dig themselves deeper into a brewing crisis, then what's going on right now in the NFL is giving you the biggest endorphin spike of your life.

It's hard to believe that the omnipotent National Football League, the sports-league-turned-money-printing-factory is finding itself so dead-center in the public opinion crosshairs. This is a league that, just weeks ago, was boasting about how much of their growth was driven by its female fan base. But with the events of the past three weeks, it's getting harder and harder to "lean in" to that assertion.

As a consultant who's advised on a few of these catastrophes, I can tell you that Roger Goodell did not enroll in the Commissioner Protection Program or stick his head in the sand these past couple of weeks. Yes, he disappeared from public appearances for a while, but I'm sure there were high level meetings held daily to gauge public opinion, monitor the news cycle (please let there be some major news story that will make people ask "Ray who?") and assess at what point a fall-on-your-sword-mea culpa would be absolutely necessary. Much to the NFL's chagrin, it was a somewhat slow news week. I mean really. If it's between Scottish independence and multiple gridiron scandals, that contest is decided before the end of the first quarter. There wasn't much to drive Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson off the front page.

So Commissioner Goodell did what he should have done weeks ago -- he stopped trying to justify his actions and misguided decisions and admitted he screwed up. That's how you get out in front of the story and not let the narrative control you. The decision to sit down with CBS' Norah O'Donnell was like calling a draw play on 3rd and 15 -- doomed to fail. It was the public relations equivalent of urinating on a brush fire that's about to engulf your house.

So after weeks of being horribly off-pitch, the Commish finally strikes some decent notes, "I made a mistake," "We didn't handle this well," etc. Have we turned the corner on this, he might have asked his deputies? I don't know, maybe. Perhaps some great on-the-field drama in Week 3 will make people forget this tawdriness and remember what it is about the NFL that captivates us. Denver vs. Seattle alone might accomplish that. So it's very possible that Sunday morning the Commish was settling in to enjoy one of the perks of his job: watching as many pro football games at one time as humanly possible. But before the first opening kickoff, something unscripted happened that may very well have caused Goodell to gag on his eggs Benedict. Ray Lewis, the former middle linebacker with a knack for breaking tackles from homicide investigators, begins waxing poetic on ESPN about the Ray Rice situation and its effect on his beloved Ravens. Bad idea. While bemoaning the stain Ray Rice has smeared on the Ravens franchise, Lewis said, "There's some things you can cover up and then there's some things you can't." What? Obviously Ray Lewis wasn't alive during Watergate because if he had been, perhaps he never would have introduced the words "cover up" to the conversation.

The landmine he stepped on basically proved one thing: no lawyer or media strategist was privy to his wacked-out remarks before he went on air. Maybe Lewis would be wiser to just plead the 5th Amendment next week when one of his pregame buddies asks him a question.

Lewis' live-TV brainlock (or was it a Freudian slip?) might just be the best evidence yet that years of pro football leave players mentally impaired. The end result was that this domestic violence story involving NFL players has more legs than a centipede.