When big business gets in big trouble

018ee079986d2ad45017c527284740deWhat do the N.F.L. and Big Tobacco have in common? Not surprisingly both are immersed in yet another crisis.

Let’s kick-off with the National Football League which, when it comes to cover-ups, makes Richard M. Nixon seem like a second-string Pop Warner scrub (which is exactly what he was when he played for tiny Whittier College in California)..

The N.F.L.’s latest misdirection was to purposely influence research on brain research. It seems that, while the league agreed to set aside tens of millions of dollars to concussion research to be overseen by the National Institutes of Health, they later pulled one heck of a flea-flicker.

They purposely chose to award the grant to a Boston University professor by the name of Sr. Robert Stern. Stern, it seems, is firmly in the pocket of the NFL since he’s been discredited as a longtime denier of the effects of concussions in players. Numerous experts on the subject agree Stern is the absolute wrong guy for the position. But, hey, this is the NFL. Are you surprised?

But, wait for the snap, it gets even worse. As part of the 2012 settlement, The NFL also agreed to fund a proposed five-part research project. But, they decided to punt on the fifth section which proposed conducting research on current and retired players after the player retired but before he died.

All of which means that, as it now stands, chronic traumatic encephalopathy (or, C.T.E.) can only be diagnosed posthumously. So, long-suffering players will have to wait until they pass away before NFL-funded research can confirm whether CTE killed them. I’m only surprised the NFL hasn’t already presented themselves with a humanitarian award for the work they’ve been forced to do so far.

Now, let’s quickly turn to Big Tobacco, which is being sued by the family of the late Hall of Famer, Tony Gwynn, who died of cancer in his right parotid salivary gland.

Big Tobacco, and in this case, Altria, is being sued for purposely directing a marketing campaign in the late 1980s that was purposely aimed at young black athletes, and intended to hook them on smokeless tobacco. In Gwynn’s case, Altria’s marketing strategy worked like a beautifully executed hit-and-run.

The world-class hitter was positively addicted to Skoal smokeless tobacco. According to the suit, Gwynn would dip as soon as he awoke and would sometimes fall asleep with the product in his right lip and cheek area. His consumption was equivalent to smoking four or five packs of cigarettes a day.

Gwynn tried to quit countless times, but good, old Altria would continue to generously ship him can after can of the killer smokeless tobacco. That’s one of those selfless plays that never show up in the scorecard.

Gwynn’s family isn’t seeking specified damages but, now that they understand how he was targeted and that (Altria knew) they had this highly carcinogenic product and were marketing it, the family want to hold the business accountable and let a jury make the proper decision.

I can’t speak for you, or your firm, but I’d refuse to represent either the NFL or Altria.

The former has a long, and sordid, history of covering up the concussion story. And, the Altria executives who purposely targeted Gwynn and other, unsuspecting African-American athletes in an attempt to get them hooked deserve a special place in hell.

After word: I once listened to a speech delivered by one of our industry’s legendary patriarchs who, when asked why his firm continued to represent Big Tobacco, responded by saying, “In a free society, every organization deserves PR representation.”

Maybe so. But, you won’t catch Peppercomm coming within 100 yards or 60 feet, six inches (the distance from the mound to home plate) of these heinous organizations. Both deserve whatever punishment the courts deem appropriate.

RepReaders please note: I’m taking a brief hiatus to rock climb and sight see in Jordan, but will return to the task at hand on D-Day.


2 thoughts on “When big business gets in big trouble

  1. Great points, Matt. But, I’m not sure smokeless tobacco was considered as lethal as cigarette smoking in the late 1980s time frame in which Altria specifically targeted black student athletes and bombarded them with unlimited free samples. In this instance, I do think they took advantage of the situation.

  2. What gets me about these issues is why human beings continue to engage in activities they know carry great risk? Say what you will, Steve, about the NFL’s and Big Tobacco’s obfuscation, but the truth about these risks has been out there for a long time. Tackle football causes concussions that can lead to serious pathologies. Tobacco causes cancer.

    Yet parents still allow their children to play tackle football, and people still use tobacco.

    Rather than just refuse to take accounts like these, can the PR industry ever get together to battle highly dangerous behaviors? Can the industry determine what makes people take risks like these, and then employ some really smart strategies to curtail the behavior?