It is not often that you see three commissioners of three major sports make news within the same 24-hour news cycle. This time none of the three was promoting anything; each was responding to threats to the integrity of the games they represented.
Roger Goodell of the National Football League banned Michael Vick from attending training camp in the wake of his indictment for participation in a dog fighting ring. Bud Selig of Major League Baseball issued a statement saying that he would personally attend upcoming games to watch Barry Bonds, an alleged abuser of performance enhancement drugs, try to break baseball’s all-time home run record. And David Stern of the National Basketball Association gave a press conference in which he laid bare the facts about a referee who as been accused of gambling on and fixing games.
None of these admissions reflect positively on the leagues they represent. Instead of making news to help shape, enhance, and protect the images of their leagues, each commissioner was reacting to bad news. In doing so, however, each provided a glimpse into what senior leaders must do in crisis situations.
Get real. David Stern was a humble man when he laid out the facts as he knew them in the referee gambling case. He spoke of his disappointment and the shock he felt at discovering that an NBA official was involved in gambling. Speaking from notes rather than prepared text, he delineated the measures in place to prevent such behavior; yet as he admitted they failed. He talked about cooperating with federal authorities as well as seeking new remedies. Stern’s a fighter; he helped build the league into a mega-billion enterprise and so he will not let the actions of one referee tarnish the reputation of a league to which he has devoted his career.
Reinforce values. Roger Goodell, serving in just his second year as commissioner, has made it his personal mission to clean up the image of the NFL by cracking down on players whose criminal behaviors bring it into disrepute. Goodell has suspended two players already. And he did it again with Michael Vick. Although Vick has not been convicted, he was put on notice for past infractions and warned to clean up his act. As ESPN reported, Goodell himself told Vick that he was responsible for what happened on his property even if he wasn’t there. And so when evidence of dog fighting was found on his Vick’s property, Goodell acted. As popular as the NFL is, corporate sponsorship is critical. No company wants to be associated with a league that allows someone involved in cruelty to animals to play.
Put the organization first. Lately Bud Selig has been projecting what George Vecsey called a “what do you want from me” attitude. The reason that Bud’s so downbeat is Barry Bonds closing in on the all-time home run record. Like many baseball fans, Bud does not enjoy seeing the record broken by someone as despised as Bonds who allegedly used steroids to beef himself up to hit more homers. What’s more, Bud is close friends with the record holder, Hank Aaron, a close to saintly star as you will ever find. Still as commissioner, Bud owes the game what he expects of its players – professionalism. And so his announcement to attend games where Bonds may tie or break the record is fitting. It proves that the game is indeed bigger than one man, even the commissioner.
You hire leaders to manage for the bad times. And if that’s the case then Stern, Goodell, and Selig earned their paychecks this week.
Sources: Chris Mortensen ESPN News 7.24.07; George Vecsey “Hoping for the End to Come Quickly” New York Times 7.24.07
John Baldoni • Executive Coach/Author/Speaker • Baldoni Consulting, LLC • www.johnbaldoni.com