[September 22, 2014] When we think of leadership lessons in sports, we normally think of it coming from players on the field and the coaching support of the game. The lesson today comes from higher up. The NFL itself is undergoing a controversy over Baltimore Ravens’ Ray Rice and the physical abuse of his then-fiancée. Rice’s initial two-game suspension did not fit well with sponsors of the NFL, politically-motivated groups, and the average citizen. The NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell struggled early with how to handle the Rice situation that occurred off the field and was a criminal matter being handled by the police.
There are at least three leadership lessons – what are they? First, the commissioner was slow in recognizing the importance of the issue and subsequently handed out light punishment. Later, after realizing the error, changed the punishment to an indefinite suspension of Rice. This was odd considering that he knew what happened – whether or not he saw the video tape of the abuse – and considering that he is known for handing out stiff punishments for player infractions. Second, he was slow in admitting he was wrong; better too late than not at all. Yet he did finally admit that the NLF and he personally had made poor judgments and vowed to improve the NFL’s policies in similar circumstances.
Some will say that he was trying to distance himself from the ethical issues here. I don’t think so and anyway, that is besides the point. Showing leadership does not allow one to pick and chose the issues we must confront daily. It also does not conveniently allow us to push away ethical concerns onto some other person, agency, independent panel, or organization. And this is the third and more important point … whatever we do as leaders we must be able to clearly distinguish right from wrong, do it quickly, and take action in a reasonable time. People see senior leaders like Roger Goodell and will make judgments about him, the NFL, and others based on what happens. Roger Goodell made the right choice in his decision to take on the ethical issue.
Oh, some advice for our political leaders … stay out of it.
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