For at least the past decade, Americans have been treated to the horrors of “identity politics”. We are not allowed to characterize ourselves as Americans, but as one of this or that or the other group. Much of this bastardization of America started with the Civil Rights Act and then accelerated with hate speech laws and rules used to condemn, demonstrate against or violently oppose uncomfortable opposing ideas. Freedom of speech itself, in Article 1 of the Bill of Rights in the Constitution, has been called into question.
In Europe, hate speech laws are used by various governments to punish opposing views. If you think homosexuality is a bad idea and you say something about it, you will be arrested, fined and even imprisoned as happened to a Swedish pastor who read from the Bible regarding homosexuality. If you think Islam is dangerous, you will be quickly silenced. A British citizen who mocked ISIS received a visit from the UK constabulary. From my perspective, similar ugly things are happening in America.
Rather than try to cover the waterfront, let’s turn to the NFL situation. Here is the most successful of the professional sport’s industries. For some utterly unknown reason, they decided to get into the “identity politics” business with all of its grievance and victim minefields. Missed, or more likely deliberately ignored, was the fan.
Here is my take on the American citizen fan. During the week, the fan goes to work to serve customers, as that is how he keeps his job. When he comes home from work, he has family responsibilities like shopping, kids activities, and more. The opportunities to relax are rare. When he turns on the news after dinner or before bed, he is besieged with “identity politics”, non-stop complaints about the unfairness of life, the cops, the military, President Trump and America. Often, the only relief he gets during a seven-day week is to watch a mindless professional football game after church on a Sunday.
With infinite arrogance and in a typically condescending fashion, the NFL decided to impose upon the fans yet another “identity politics” grievance display. They used the opening ceremonies of all the pro-football games to do this. Not unexpectedly, angered fans rebelled. Of course, excuses were quickly made. (The players weren’t protesting, they were praying was one of my favorites although anybody with a brain knew that was a “crock of sewage”.) Apologies, explanations, pleas for understanding, confusions and contradictions, embarrassments, insults, on and on were made in what appeared to be a mass panic throughout the NFL, their advertisers, and their sycophants in the media. All such protestation basically dug the crisis hole deeper, and deeper, and deeper.
I studied and taught crisis management. One of the key points in a crisis is things are never what they were before. Good decisions suddenly become bad. Bad decisions suddenly become good. It is best to shut up and hold on until you actually see some “light at the end of the tunnel – which may not be a tunnel but the barrel of a shotgun”. The NFL has a self-inflicted crisis that will make for numerous case studies in every business school in the country.
Is there a way out? Well, in the short term, the situation is irretrievable. The entire NFL management team needs to go. This crisis is too big for a simple apology to the fans and a large scapegoat or group of scapegoats is needed. (I suspect this mass firing will happen fairly quickly if the fan boycott hits the NFL as hard as I think it will.) Second, a new NFL Commissioner with broad powers to remove owners from ownership, coaches from coaching, and players from the league will be needed. You mess with the fans and you lose. Or, as one rather sage individual has been quoted as saying “Rule #1: The customer is always right. Rule #2: If the customer is wrong, see Rule #1”.
Is the situation irretrievable in the long term? This is where it gets quite tricky. A significant if not fundamental bond of friendship has been broken. You may be able to repair the friendship somewhat, but there will always be a scar to remind everyone of what happened. Time does heal wounds. We will see what happens with the NFL.