Eight crisis wranglers on what the Mueller report means for the NFL's reputation

Is the release of the Mueller report - an investigation into the NFL's handling of the Ray Rice incident - the end of the league's reputation crisis? Eight crisis communications experts sound off.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell

Former FBI Director Robert Mueller released a report on his investigation into the National Football League’s handling of the domestic abuse incident involving former Baltimore Ravens star Ray Rice on Thursday.

It found that the NFL and commissioner Roger Goodell had not seen videotape footage of Rice punching his then-fiancée in the elevator of an Atlantic City casino before initially deciding to suspend him only two games. Rice was eventually suspended indefinitely and cut by the Ravens after TMZ obtained the tape.

However, Mueller also stated that the NFL could have done much more to obtain information about the incident.

With much of the 2014-15 NFL season played under the cloud of this controversy, PRWeek asked crisis communicators to comment on whether the league has finally put this reputational crisis behind it.

Jonathan Bernstein, president of Bernstein Crisis Management
The NFL's reputation has been partially repaired, but nothing but time and consistent enforcement of its new policies will complete the repair. There's no substitute for walking your talk when it comes to reputation management.

Ryan Croy, managing partner, Fifteen Minutes Public Relations
The good news is that after a very thorough investigation, it's apparent the NFL was not involved in covering up the existence of a tape. While it appears that Goodell and league executives won't be sending out resumes tomorrow, this needs to be a lesson learned. The NFL is a sophisticated organization. It’s time to act like one and create policies and protocols for handling these types of incidents so they're not mismanaged in the future.  We expect better. 

Helio Fred Garcia, president of Logos Consulting Group
I don’t know that the report’s findings will make a difference to people who already have a negative impression of the league. I am confident the league will use that as an indication to show they behaved responsibly, but reasonable people will likely disagree. The NFL knew about the incident, they knew about the assault, and they knew that there were many other players charged with similar assaults.

Joan Gladstone, president and CEO of Gladstone International
One of the best strategies any corporation can use in a ‘he said, she said’ dispute is to retain a third-party, respected expert with impeccable credentials. The fact that former FBI director Robert Mueller’s report concluded the NFL had no prior knowledge of the TMZ tape goes a long way in helping the NFL restore its reputation over the Ray Rice incident.

Deb Hileman, president and CEO, Institute for Crisis Management
The NFL has not yet ‘turned the corner’ in cleaning up its reputation. They have just begun. Unfortunately, the domestic abuse problems the league is addressing are just the latest in a years-long string of incidents in which players have been involved in criminal violence. Organizational culture takes time and focused effort to change. The NFL will need to communicate through positive actions and sustained change in order to repair its reputation.

Sandy Lish, principal and founder, the Castle Group
While the report is helpful in supporting Goodell’s previous statements about the video, it also supports the perception that the NFL did not look into the matter deeply enough. The NFL needs to adhere to – and regularly evaluate – its personal conduct and domestic violence policies to demonstrate real commitment to addressing the issue.

Josh Morton, director of issues and crisis management at Golin
The NFL and Goodell now have a choice. They can be short sighted, and act like the book is closed on their crisis. Or they can take the long-term view, and reaffirm their commitment to taking actions that restore public confidence and faith in the league as an organization that does the right thing. The NFL has taken some important steps since the Ray Rice story blew up, including important updates to its personal conduct policy. But Goodell and the league should not rest there. They should instead commit to taking further action.

Mike Parker, SVP at InkHouse
While the Mueller report absolves the NFL from scrutiny in terms of a legal context, it has a long way to go in terms of earning back its credibility in the court of public opinion. While the 96-page report is no doubt thorough and meticulous in its findings, in my opinion it does little to sway sentiment back in the NFL’s favor. For many, this was the expected outcome of the report and whispers of a cover-up have already begun. If the NFL is serious about rebuilding its reputation and taking on the issue of domestic violence amongst its membership, they need to prove it through their actions.

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