Blog, Media + Politics

The NFL’s Crisis Is Just Beginning: No Easy End in Sight

Originally posted September 23, 2014 on the Huffington Post

If past crises are any guide, then the NFL’s crisis is just beginning. The appointment of four women to help set policies and procedures for domestic violence is an admirable and necessary first step, but it will not get at the underlying conditions that have made domestic violence and child abuse major crises waiting to happen.

Time and again, the field of crisis management has shown that “crises just don’t happen.” All crises are the result of a set of underlying conditions that have been allowed to fester for way too long. Because they have mostly been ignored, and therefore not given proper attention, they’ve not only grown, but made the present crises a virtual certainty. Unless the full set of conditions is faced and dealt with, the present crisis will not only continue, but even worse, it will set off an uncontrolled chain reaction of other crises. (The NFL has already seen major sponsors threaten to pull out proving that NO crisis is EVER a single, well contained, and isolated crisis.)

It’s time for the NFL — indeed all sports — to face up to the fact that violence cannot be limited to game days alone. It’s sheer fantasy to believe that one can engage in an occupation where violence is prominent aspect of it, and worse yet, is glorified, and not have violence spill over into all the other parts of one’s life. Humans have never been good at compartmentalizing the so-called separate parts of their lives.

It’s also sheer fantasy to believe that those who have been idolized their whole lives, treated as major celebrities, have repeatedly gotten away with minor and major infractions, make tons of money, have not completed their education or have received little, come from disadvantaged backgrounds often filled with violence, etc., and that all of these factors and more will not combine to exacerbate violence on and off the field. In short, unless football and other sports are reconfigured radically, the violence will only escalate. To say that this will not be easy because the league and the public will fight it mightily is putting it mildly.

In short, the violence in every sport has to be scaled back. The emphasis needs to be on grace, style, and skill.

Of course, attitudes on and off the field also need to change radically. The fact that one was “whipped” as a child does not make it acceptable to beat one’s children. Child abuse is child abuse no matter what it’s called!

If I were the commissioner of any sport, then I’d take what’s happened in the NFL as a gigantic wake up call. What is there to believe that the same set of conditions are not festering in any other sport?

Firing Roger Goodell may feel good. It may even help in the short run, but firing the coach will not fix what’s fundamentally wrong with the team in the long run.

Blog, Media + Politics, Philosophy + Systems, Sociology

Enough Is Enough: It’s Time to Get Tough on Organizations That Involve Children in Any Form or Manner

Originally published on The Huffington Post, November, 28, 2012

For over 30 years, I have consulted with regard to and studied virtually every type of crisis imaginable (manmade and so-called natural disasters, criminal, environmental, ethical, financial, PR, terrorism, etc.). I have particularly studied the general lessons that all crises have to teach. I want to apply a few of these lessons to one of the most egregious of all crises: child abuse.

Whether we are experiencing an “actual, real epidemic” of child abuse or because of the overwhelming presence of the media we are just more aware of it is beside the point. What is not beside the point is that some of the most important and highly esteemed organizations have not only engaged in serious cases of child abuse, but engaged in concerted and repeated actions to protect and/or shelter those guilty of committing abuse. These include: 1. The Catholic Church; 2. The Boy Scouts of America; 3. Penn State; and 4. BBC. To add to the list, recently, the voice of Elmo supposedly had a sexual relationship with a then-underage boy. As a result, he abruptly resigned from The Sesame Street Workshop in order to protect the organization from further unpleasant publicity.

In short, some of the most highly esteemed organizations and institutions have engaged in nothing less than the worst kind of betrayal of the public trust.

Since the cases are well-known and have been covered extensively in the media, I shall not bother to review the livid details. Instead, I want to cover what my years of studying crises lead me to suggest.

The first and primary lesson that it is never ever the case that no one in an organization knows or knew what was going on or occurred. Instead, out of obedience, misplaced loyalty, or fear, they are pressured to keep it to themselves. Or, if they do report it to a higher-up, they are assured that the situation will be dealt with firmly and promptly. When they see that nothing is done and/or that those who report it are dealt with harshly, they soon learn to turn a deaf ear and blind eye.

The second primary lesson, which is strongly related to the first, is that, no matter what the particular kind of crisis, the vast overwhelming majority of organizations cannot be trusted to monitor themselves. (This is one of the other lessons that crises teach.) For this reason, I insist in no uncertain terms that at their own expense organizations and institutions that involve or serve children in any way be monitored for any hints and possibilities of child abuse at least once a year by outside organizations specifically equipped and trained to do so.

I am extremely well aware of what I am calling for. It will not be cheap or easy. But then, it will cost substantially less that the cost of a full-blown crisis. (This is another of the other lessons that crises teach. Crises always cost more than preparation and/or mitigation efforts.)

To be perfectly clear, I am calling for trained interviewers to conduct broad open-ended interviews with a broad cross-section of the members of organizations to probe for potential cases and indicators of child abuse. Under no circumstance are the interviews to be designed to seek out and punish gays and/or consenting adults for whatever they wish to engage in the comfort, privacy, or security of their homes. It goes without saying that whatever the practices, they are not to be engaged in at work.

I am well aware of the response of civil libertarians to such ideas and proposals. For this reason, the individuals and organizations that conduct such interviews have to do everything in their power to respect and comply with the privacy of individuals. Indeed, to avoid their own crises, they must do everything they can to seek out and work closely with civil libertarians to design interviews that will meet their standards. Whether they can meet those standards or not, I still recommend that such interviews be performed.

As a social scientist, I am of course well aware that nothing is perfect in assessing the behavior of individuals and/or organizations. But then crisis management also teaches us that perfection is not the standard. Despite our best intentions, we can’t prevent all crises. But this doesn’t relieve us from doing everything in our power to lower the chances of crises.

In balancing the rights of adults versus those of children, I am obviously squarely on the side of children. Those who choose to work in organizations and institutions that involve or serve children have no alternative in my mind but to subject themselves to greater scrutiny.

Finally, it is to their benefit that organizations allow themselves to be monitored. How else can they not merely protect but ensure their reputation? If not, then they had better be prepared for severe losses in financial support and membership.

Originally published on The Huffington Post, November, 28, 2012