Commissioner Goodell, Michael Vick, and the NFL: Fumble!

Michael Vick was the focus of attention yesterday as he was conditionally reinstated to play in the NFL yesterday, following his well publicized travails, public apologies and commitment to work against animal cruelty.

This post has very little to do with Michael Vick and whether or not the decision was the correct one, and everything to do with Commissioner Goodell, the National Football League, and messaging.

The NFL had a huge opportunity to send a powerful message, and missed (again).

What the NFL, and Commissioner Goodell, could have done, from a messaging perspective:

1. NFL Animal Cruelty Initiative – It has been over two years since the Vick incident occurred, and it was clear that decision day for the Commissioner would come.  The months leading up to yesterday should have seen a major campaign against animal cruelty from the League.

2. NFL Charitable Foundation – It was surprising that while announcing this reinstatement there was no announcement of a major charitable initiative for animal protection, for animal shelters, etc.

3. Announce a Partnership – Yesterday would have been the perfect day to announce a new partnership between the NFL and a group such as the ASPCA  or the Humane Society (Vick did).

4. Send a Message – Amend the Personal Conduct Policy – What harm would come from making cruelty to animals part of the NFL’s Personal Conduct Policy?  It would appear to be a minor change that would send a very clear and compelling message, at no cost (the Commissioner has basically done this anyway, through the conditional reinstatement).

5. Lots of PSA’s (Public Service Announcements) – I am guessing a number of players have pets — the NFL should have had PSA’s running all off season featuring players and pets.

6. Have Michael Vick and Tony Dungy at the Press Conference — It was clear decision day was going to be a media circus, and by trying to control the flow of information the opposite happened.  Having a live event where remorse could clearly be shown and where your best asset (Tony Dungy) could be featured would have been better than allowing a press statement through an agent.

7. Have a leading Animal Rights Group at the Announcement – the ASPCA responded fairly positively to yesterday’s news.  It would have been a nice touch to have representatives at the event.

What would this have done?

It would have re-focused yesterday’s message on the action (animal cruelty and dog fighting) rather than the person.  The NFL has suffered a number of public relations blows as of late, and yesterday would have been a great opportunity to send a re-assuring message to fans, especially fans that look up to players as role models.

What the NFL missed was that acceptance of this decision by the public is a campaign, and should have been organized as such.

Time will tell who recovers the ball….

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