The WWE and NFL Had a Horrible Public Relations Week

Screen Shot 2015-09-03 at 9.33.12 PMThis week saw a series of events that became the smackdown no one in World Wrestling Entertainment wanted to see play out. But perhaps the National Football League appreciated the distraction, because this week wasn’t one for their record books, either.

Ryan Dilbert wrote a great bit on the WWE’s PR problems, which inspired my post today. Please check it out.

Wrestling icon Hulk Hogan appeared on Good Morning America this week to apologize for his use of the n-word, which was captured on audio in 2006 or 2007. The WWE also fired wrestler Zahra Schreiber this week for pro-Nazi artwork she posted on her Instagram in 2012.

WWE and NFL are businesses, and they must operate with ethics, integrity and social responsibility in mind. Taking a hard line against Hogan and Schreiber sent a public message that the WWE wouldn’t tolerate racial insensitivity. They said this in a statement after Hogan’s firing: “WWE is committed to embracing and celebrating individuals from all backgrounds as demonstrated by the diversity of our employees, performers and fans worldwide.”

The NFL has had a reputation problem for well over a year due to some players’ bad behavior, and Broncos safety T.J. Ward experienced the repercussions of his behavior this week when he received a one-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal-conduct policy, The Denver Post reported Thursday. He allegedly threw a mug at a strip club waitress 15 months ago, but charges were dropped after he served four hours of community service.

“I take full responsibility for the incident that occurred…and am willing to accept the consequences of my actions by serving my one-game suspension,” Ward said in a statement. “Although I was never arrested and all charges against me were ultimately dismissed, I have no one to blame but myself…”

Just like employees in an organization, players are the NFL’s reputation ambassadors, and past incidents have shown that players can fall down on the job. But in this case, Ward’s words showed contrition, and that helps.

The WWE and NFL names were associated with two murder suspects charged this week. Legendary wrestler Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka was charged with third-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter Tuesday in the 1983 death of his girlfriend.

Meanwhile, former NFL running back Lawrence Phillips, already serving a sentence of more than 31 years for choking his girlfriend and later of driving his car into three teens after a pickup football game, was charged with first-degree murder in his cellmate’s death.

You have no control over a person’s actions when they’re out of your organization, and limited control when they’re in it. The best you can do is have core values and enforce them, says Texas Longhorns football coach Charlie Strong. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell met with Strong in 2014 during a rough period when the organization faced criticism for its handling of some players’ domestic violence cases.

Speaking of, Jen Welter’s five-week coaching internship with the Arizona Cardinals ended with no job offer, and she thinks adding more female coaches to the NFL might help curb domestic violence problems.

By having a female coach on the field, “you have an opportunity to make them better men and not just better football players, and ultimately that is the goal,” she told Katie Couric in a Yahoo! News interview this week.

Welter also dished on the topic of concussions in the NFL. Sony released a trailer of “Concussion” Monday, and the New York Times published a story Tuesday about emails released in the Sony hacking scandal that outline how the company altered the movie to prevent NFL protests. They’re “marketing the film more as a whistle-blower story, rather than a condemnation of football or the league,” one email states.

This stream of negative news is a reminder that every organization needs to have a plan in place. That includes identifying stakeholders and understanding the situation’s seriousness, says Bristol Whitcher of Big Fish Communications. A company’s actions must speak louder than its words following negative news.

Based on the horrible week experienced by the WWE and NFL, what do you recommend these two organizations do to overcome the bad press?