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Violence-in-the-NFLIt is staggering to me that five years ago this month, I shared both professional and personal insights in USA Today after an incident of violence against women was reported. At that time, I offered 10 ideas for how the NFL could address its growing public relations problems including, among other options, the issuance of a public letter of apology within both print and online media; hosting Town Hall gatherings with local advocacy groups in each of the NFL’s 32 cities, and establishment of a specific division or office within the NFL devoted solely to domestic violence concerns (similar to the White House’s Advisor on Violence Against Women). Thre is no question that progress has been made since 2014, and for that I, and a multitude of others are thankful.

However, the recent allegations of sexual assault swirling around Antonio Brown, a new arrival within the  New England Patriots club, have seemingly brought 2014 full circle. As the saying goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

This week’s press conference hosted by Coach Bill Belichick was an epic PR fail. As usual, Belichick held fast to a prepared script, but this was one time when a diversion from the usual monotone answers was required. Although he referenced that the organization, at all levels, takes the allegations seriously, his laissez-faire attitude communicated otherwise.

Actions speak louder than words, Bill.

As a long-time New England Patriots fan, 35-year PR professional and a woman, I found Coach Belichick’s handling of the Antonio Brown issue absolutely abysmal. Further, it reflected poorly on the team as a whole and showed a total lack of respect for women and the seriousness of this situation. Belichick portrayed a business as usual demeanor, stating his priorities were less about Antonio Brown and more about  “getting ready for Miami.”

While this situation is still being investigated, it is hardly business as usual. The comment, “things are what they are” is clearly not appropriate. What Belichick communicated by actions, words and his body language can be interpreted as the NFL’s return to the dark ages with no lessons from past incidents of violence against women. It not only sends a terrible message, it cements the NFL’s reputation as an organization that is completely tone deaf and disingenuous.

The NFL, like the New England Patriots, needs to do its job and err on the side of caution with a conviction to fully investigate and communicate its findings. I agree with Christine Brennan who this week wrote in USA Today:

“No one knows who is telling the truth, Brown or Britney Taylor, who chose to make her name public as she presented the allegations, but if we’ve learned anything in the #MeToo era, it’s that we should listen to women. That doesn’t mean kicking Brown out of the league, or even suspending him. Not yet, and perhaps not ever. What it means is taking the lawsuit seriously enough to stash Brown away somewhere for the time being while Taylor’s allegations are investigated. That somewhere is the Commissioner’s exempt list.”

Not one to shy away from expressing my opinion, I made my feelings and concerns known to Mr. Kraft’s and Mr. Goodell’s offices, and shared professional insight with the Boston Globe, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal for good measure. Perhaps one journalist said it best within our dialogue:

“Whenever there’s a statement issued, he (meaning Belichick) – even more than other coaches – tends to stick to it rather rigidly. Until/unless the N.F.L. suspends Brown, the Patriots seem OK with him playing.”

NFL, New England Patriots. It is not okay.

Do your job.

UPDATE: Antonio Brown was released from the New England Patriots organization on September 20, 2019, as reported by Katie McInerney, assistant sports editor of the Boston Globe. The New England Patriots statement read:

“The New England Patriots are releasing Antonio Brown. We appreciate the hard work of many people over the past 11 days, but we feel that it is best to move in a different direction at this time.”  

Now we wait to see exactly which direction that will be. Will the Patriots set the example or will it cower, as others have, behind lawyer-esqe statements and nebulous, smoke and mirrors dialogue touting “investigation” hoping that future victories will distract from the organization’s obvious inaction?

Only time will tell.

 

By: Chris Goddard

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