Are You Ready for Some Football (Controversy)?


Today’s guest blog is authored by Steve Goodwin, a principal at Brand Foundations, a strategic branding & purpose partner of Peppercomm’s. As you’ll read, the National Football League once again finds itself knee deep in controversy. Enjoy…..

The NBA and NHL playoffs are nearing their final rounds. The MLB All-Star break is within view. Yet even though team training camps won’t open for another couple of months, the National Football League is grabbing headlines. And one of the league’s fiercest rivalries promises to make the upcoming season anything but predictable… for corporate America.

Redskins/Cowboys? Raiders/Chiefs? Packers/Bears? Nope. Fiercer than those legendary matchups. We’re talking owners vs. players.

This week, NFL owners unanimously approved a new policy that requires players and team personnel to stand for the national anthem if they’re on the field while it’s being played. Players will have the right to remain in the locker room. Significant fines can be levied against teams for noncompliance.

Within nanoseconds of that announcement, the NFL Players Association took a contrary stand, promising to fight the ruling – on which they maintain they weren’t consulted – “to the end.”

And moments after that, NY Jets owner Chris Johnson issued a statement saying that he would pay for any fines incurred by his team’s players… a thumb in the eye of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell (and of a certain inhabitant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue).

So the stage – perhaps “trap” is a better word – is set for mega-controversy. Two obvious questions loom:

  1. Will companies with NFL players under endorsement contracts face collateral brand damage if those players opt to defy league rules and take a knee?
  1. Given the copious racial overtones as this issue has played out very publicly over the past two years, will companies who count “diversity” and “inclusiveness” among their deeply held values still feel comfortable with their NFL sponserships the first time a player or team is penalized?

Those are among the sort of questions and potentially incendiary issues that are increasingly forcing big businesses to assess their sponsorship, partnership and other corporate relationships. How thin is the line some companies will need to tread this NFL season? Think about your favorite running back tip-toeing the sideline to stay inbounds.

One thought on “Are You Ready for Some Football (Controversy)?

  1. What a mess! Of course the owners are within their rights as employers to fine teams or even fire players for kneeling, just as I could be fired for standing up in a client meeting and screaming “death to all tyrants!” But isn’t the action a bit confusing? The same NFL owners who stood up to Trump for the players last winter have bowed to demographics, ratings, and pressure from fans and sponsors. Like you-know-who, they have a base to consider.

    Personally, I think all would be better served by letting them kneel and seeing how this goes over time. I believe it would fade out by next fall. But by following the lead of the Master of Diversion in the White House, Goodell and the NFL owners have made these players martyrs in the eyes of some. Because he cannot keep his mouth shut, Trump has forced this into becoming a Masta-Slave situation, albeit with 7-and 8-figure salaries.

    I’d also add that the NBA would not dare try this, simply because their demographics and history with addressing race are not the same. Even NY Knicks owner Jim Dolan isn’t that dumb…I think. But sadly, that distinction would probably add to the racial divide further. Perhaps white fans go football and non-white goes elsewhere.

    We’ll see what happens. Some marketers may find they have an opportunity to double-down with the NFL. Others may divert their spend. I doubt many will abandon them altogether. It’s just too much of a business.

    Why some people find kneeling more offensive to the Constitution than the very real crimes being committed against it right now is beyond me. Well, no it isn’t but I’ll stop there. It’s Memorial Day. Let’s honor our past and present service members.