During this time of year, it’s customary to make resolutions. Some people choose to start things. Others choose to quit things. My personal resolution for ’15 is simple”: to make a positive difference in the lives of NCAA and NFL athletes.
Here’s what that looks like from my vantage point, and what I’d like to see happen in NCAA and NFL football this year.
- Higher priority placed on character and life skills development. Everyone is more than familiar with the symptoms: arrests, failed drug tests, DUIs, violations of the personal conduct code…the list of symptoms is endless. But chipping away at that list is going to require NCAA programs (i.e. coaches) and NFL organizations (i.e. GMs and coaches) investing in proactive (not reactive) approaches.
From what I’ve seen, the current approach with college football programs is to stack the best athletes in the country on the same team for at least two years, have a strong compliance department, bring in a few motivational speakers (like me) before and during the season, have a “life skills” department existing at the university, suspend players as a preemptive strike against NCAA sanctions and hope for the best.
Two words: not working.
The current approach in the NFL consists of compulsory proactive one-offs and short-term training programs (NFL Rookie Symposium; NFL Rookie Success Program) and the mandatory hiring of Directors of Player Engagement at every NFL team. Noble efforts no doubt, but the one thing I repeatedly hear from NFLPE execs, and DPE’s is that the investment of time for character development and life skills is a daily dog fight. Every second of team time is delegated, and it’s difficult to allocate time to off-the-field training.
So, what takes more time: proactively equipping people to avert disasters or reactively cleaning them up? And, I won’t even get into the discussion about which of those options costs more money (but, I guess I just did).
Pay now or pay later: in time and money. But, I believe leadership at a few NCAA and NFL teams will acknowledge that the reactive / defensive position comes at too high a price – in every way. I also believe those wise few will take the steps to make that proactive time investment in developing the character of the people they’re claiming to care about.
2. Refusal of mediocrity. Too many big time CFB programs and NFL teams have developed the nasty habit of allowing mediocre standards outside the locker room, leading to avoidable chaos on and off the field. Yes, there is an element of autonomy required to establish trust. Yes, NFL athletes are grown men (chronologically, at least), and it’s not the job of NFL owners, management and coaching staff to babysit them. But far too often, character hiccups turn into dry heaves and, eventually, spilled guts, and that’s always due to a slow leak in leadership. NCAA programs can’t be afraid of losing five-star athletes if the moral and ethical code places a higher demand on their character than what they’re used to. NFL owners don’t need to wait until hell (and a PR disaster) breaks loose to have “zero-tolerance” policies on character flaws that have been ticking time bombs since the day they drafted electrifying talent with the maturity level of a Pop Warner player.
The post-disaster PSAs are a nice PR effort, but how about establishing some standards that make the temptation to screw up much less attractive?
3. Greater focus on the good. I’m not talking to the media here. I know the stories they’ll publish. I’m talking to CFB and NFL team PR departments. With today’s self-publishing accessibility, every NCAA and NFL team should have its PR people bombarding the Internet with every feel-good story inside and outside the locker room. For one, it will push natural leaders to the forefront – whether they’re starters or not. Secondly, it empowers the team to establish an identity of desirable behavior that can become infectious. When the majority is on its P’s and Q’s, the minority will either get on board or phase itself out. There were plenty of complimentary character-related stories in the NCAA and NFL last year, but they got little to no publicity simply because, from what I can see, talking about it hasn’t been a priority in team PR departments. Given the state of today’s digital age – and the power of social media – it’s time to stop blaming the media for the lack of positive publicity. That ball is officially in NCAA programs’ and NFL teams’ PR department’s courts.
I personally don’t get why they’re not getting it done. And after 18 years working as a PR pro, neither does my wife. Her philosophy is, if mainstream news and sports media won’t cover it, cover it yourself.