Ethical and Non Ethical Behaviors of the NFL Essay

Every day in this day and age, you can turn on the television, or open the newspaper and find stories about organizations in this world that exhibit ethically and socially accepted behaviors, as well as those that exhibit ethically and socially unacceptable behaviors. There are a few that exhibit both, and an example of one of the biggest organizations that exhibit both behaviors is the National Football League. The National Football League, or NFL, was founded in 1920 by a group of men led by George Halas (Halas Wikipedia page, para 5).

The league was formed during a time when the popularity of college athletics far outweighed that of any professional sport, especially football. The NFL struggled for many years while slowly gaining popularity as it competed against college sports and the other major competition of the time, Major League Baseball. As time has gone on, the NFL has formed into a multi-million dollar organization that now rivals Major League Baseball for the title of our national pastime. With a fan base that grows every year, the NFL generally has a very positive public perception.

However, more and more these days, that public perception is being challenged by off the field incidents by players and other issues such as the current labor agreement dispute that threaten to alienate fans from the teams and players themselves. Since his election into the position, the commissioner of the league, Roger Goodell has made one of his top priorities to continue to move forward with promoting a positive image of the league who, without the support of the general public buying tickets to games, concessions, and souvenirs, would suffer greatly financially.

There are many positive and negative issues that the NFL is dealing with today, but by far and away the most positive activity that the league participates in and promotes is NFL Charities. The NFL sponsors many charities and promotions that help a wide range of groups from homeless and underprivileged children to former players who are handicapped from their playing days and have fallen on hard times by giving medical and financial assistance to them(Letter from Commissioner, para 2) . An example of a recent promotion that has been given extensive television exposure during this last football season is the NFL’s “Play 60” promotion.

The “Play 60” promotion is a youth health and fitness initiative that promotes healthier lifestyles for our children by stressing the importance of sixty minutes a day of exercise. Roughly ten million dollars are spent every year by the NFL to fund and advertise for these charities (Letter from Commissioner, para 2). The league also supplements the charitable activities of all 32 teams and also those of individual players by donating money and resources to their particular charities. Funding has also been given by the NFL to support medical research and education in sports related injuries.

It is hoped that this will benefit those who participate in competitive sports and recreational activities (NFL Charities Web page). By giving the support and funding that they have, the NFL is showing its commitment to communities’ nationwide and charitable engagement. It is strengthening its public perception by encouraging long term health and wellness in the community, assisting in medical research and advancement, and supports the health and well being of current and former players (NFL Charities Web Page).

Although the charities that the NFL sponsors promote a very positive image, very recently over the past several years the league has had many incidents that threaten to tarnish its image. Gun law violations, domestic abuse, dog fighting, and sexual harassment are just a few of the violations that have been committed by NFL athletes over the past few years. However, it is not only the actual incidents themselves that can hurt the leagues image, it’s the way that each individual incident has been handled that causes damage to the reputation of the NFL in the court of public opinion.

Until only recently, it seemed as if the offender got off with a “slap on the wrist”, by the law and the league, and was allowed back onto the field after a short suspension and fine, if punishment was even levied against the athlete. This is where the ethics and social behavior of the NFL come into question. What kind of example is the league providing the youth of this world by showing that you can commit a heinous crime and still retain your job? Even more, if an “average” person committed the same crime, was convicted, and served jail time, would they be able to return to society and expect to get their job back or even a job at all?

Maybe, but it is certainly not going to be as easy as if you were a world class athlete that is employed by a multi-million dollar organization. The public perception is that if you are a famous athlete, you can get away with murder without even trying. Commissioner Goodell has made another one of his top priorities to establish a personal conduct policy that players must abide by. This policy states that punishment of the player can occur even if there is no legal action taken or conviction passed (Five Obstacles, para 4).

This is hoped to deter the players from even putting themselves in a situation that could end in a negative way. It is important to note however, that not all situations that are investigated by the commissioner are equal. It has been said though, that Goodell will err on the side of punishment in order to send a message to everyone, including the public, that even A-list athletes can be disciplined for incidents that do not necessarily result in legal charges, but do hurt the brand of the NFL and its public image (Goodell, Big Ben para 5).

How severely the athlete is punished though is another question altogether. This policy has come into question, though as some are saying that the commissioner has too much power in being the only voice who decides on punishment and disciplinary matters. Goodell has taken a stronger stance on discipline because of the public perception that the league is soft when it comes to discipline. The reason that the public perceives “softness” when it comes to league discipline, especially in the case of a super star player, can be summed up with the recent issues involving Brett Favre.

The former Minnesota Vikings Quarterback was accused of sending inappropriate text messages and pictures to a female who worked for the New York Jets when Favre was Quarterback there in 2008 (Favre Fined, para 2). It was never proven if the information sent to the woman was from Favre, but the long drawn out investigation from the league raised questions by many people around the country. The fact that he was already a living legend, and about to retire led those people to believe that the league was covering something up and protecting the legacy of Favre.

In the end, a $50,000 fine was levied against Favre for not cooperating with the investigation (Favre Fined, para 9), which as most people know is merely a slap on the wrist for the millionaire quarterback. Jim Cornwell, a sports attorney who is also currently vying for the position of the head of the NFL Players union, is challenging Goodell’s unilateral approach to decision making about discipline. “The notion that public relations drives or justifies draconian and unfair disciplinary actions is simply misplaces and we will no longer accept it” (Cornwell Wants Review, para 3), Cornwell has been quoted as aying. Cornwell, also very aware of the fans perception of the league also stated that he will make a “Focused commitment on making sure that the vast majority of athletes in the NFL are great community citizens” (Cornwell Wants Review, para 14). Recently, former Atlanta Falcons Quarterback Michael Vick served two years of prison time stemming from a conviction on a dog fighting charge. The details of the crime need not be mentioned, but at the time, Vick was vilified in the public, and not only his image, but that of the league took a very big hit.

After serving the time in prison, and a small suspension from the league after his release, only now is Vick regaining his reputation although some say that it will never be what it once was. The debate here is that the public outcry against Vick was way louder than that of Ray Lewis, a linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens who was charged with the murder of two men in 2000 shortly after the Super Bowl that year(Superstar Athletes, para 5), or Pittsburgh Steelers Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger who was charged with raping a young woman during the summer of 2010.

The charges against Lewis and Roethlisberger were eventually dropped, and they both returned to the field, although Roethlisberger did serve a small suspension that was imposed by Goodell. Both Lewis and Roethlisberger received nearly none of the public bashing that Vick did, by the media, or fans, yet they were associated with crimes against human beings, not animals. This should not diminish the crimes that he committed though, as they are despicable and disgusting. At the very least Lewis and Roethlisberger should have been held to the same public scrutiny and disdain as Vick was, and to a small extent, still is.

These are just a few stories of NFL athletes that have affected the public perception of the NFL although there are and will be many others in the future. The responsibility has fallen onto Commissioner Goodell to help restore public perception and confidence in the league by continuing to enforce fair and equal discipline to anyone who violates the code of conduct that he has established. The next issue that threatens public perception of the NFL is the possibility of an “Owner’s lockout” of the players for the 2011 season.

This will be done because the Collective bargaining agreement between the league and the NFL players union is set to expire in the beginning of March of this year, and both sides being quite a distance apart when it comes to what they want to be included on a new agreement (Goodell Frustrated, para 2). There are many issues involved with the formation of the new CBA, including health benefits, the creation of an eighteen game season, and the re-structuring of the rookie draft pick pay scale, but the only issue that fans seem to hear and care about is money.

This has become a huge public relations nightmare for the league, and threatens to get worse if the lockout actually happens. The NFL fan base is starting to see the players as overpaid and spoiled, and cannot understand why they are squabbling over money when they make millions of dollars every year-way more than the average person in this country does today. With the economy in its current state, fans are having a hard time giving sympathy to either side. Indianapolis Colts center and Colts Union Player Rep Jeff Saturday stated “Everybody is making money in this deal.

The fans are not going to be sympathetic, particularly right now” (CBA, para 1). The fans of this league continue to support the NFL through ticket and merchandise sales even though they may be struggling in the economy. In an open letter to the fans of the league, Goodell addresses his understanding of the economic times we are in, and how it affects not only the league and its teams, but the fans themselves. He shows his dedication to the fans to get these issues resolved as soon as possible, when he states “fans have limited budgets, and want the most for their money.

I get it” (An Open Letter para 5). In the event of a lock out, the NFL risks losing its fan base that may be slow to come back, or never come back at all. The baseball strike in 1994 occurred right before the World Series, causing it to be cancelled (Five Obstacles, para 15). Major League Baseball figured that once the labor dispute was settled, that its fans would come back. They were wrong, as attendance numbers lagged for several years (Five Obstacles, para16), and are just now starting to approach pre 1994 numbers.

Fans found alternative entertainment then, and will now if the 2011 NFL season is cancelled due to the lock out. The NFL, both players and owners, should learn from the lesson that MLB learned 16 years ago. In conclusion, the NFL has a long way to go before its public perception falls apart, but also has a long way to go to correct all of its current issues, and looming future issues that it has. As long as the public perceives that the league is trying to take care of problems, and continues to put a quality product on the field, there will always be fan support of the eague. A study by Walker Research indicated that two-thirds of customers would do business with a company that they perceived as being socially and ethically responsible (Daft and Marcic, p144). The incidents that I have described above can happen every day in all types of different companies, large and small. The fact that this is happening in the NFL is what projects it into such a large scale, and this is helped by the media which can instantly broadcast coverage around the country by means of internet, television, and radio.

By observing things on a large scale, managers can learn how to handle, or not to handle investigating, and possibly discipline any incidents that may happen in their own organization. Although the NFL is a very big example, managers can translate these examples into a smaller scale that they can then use to deal with the day to day situations that occur in the operations of their company.


Goodell, R. (2001) An open letter from Roger Goodell. Retrieved January 22, 2011 from (http://network. yardbarker. com/nfl/article_external/an_open_letter_from_roger_goodell/3900506 Wawrow, J. 2009). Cornwall Wants review of NFL Policy. Lead Counsel Corner. Retrieved January 15th, 2011 from http://blog. lawinfo. com/2009/03/09/cornwell-wants-review-of-nfl-discipline-policy/ Ciraco, J. (2009). Superstar Athletes and Public Perception. Retrieved January 28th 2011 from http://bleacherreport. com/articles/181765-superstar-athletes-and-public-perception Brett Favre fined $50K by NFL. (n. d. ) Retrieved January 28th, 2011 from http://m. espn. go. com/nfl/story? storyId=5965863 Madland, D. , & Bunker, N. (2010) The NFL’s Win-Win Labor Agreement.

Retrieved January 28th, 2011 from http://www. americanprogressaction. org/issues/2010/09/nfl_labor_agreement. html Goodell frustrated on labor front. (2011) Retrieved January 28th 2011 from http://sports. yahoo. com/nfl/news? slug=ap-nflmeetings Brandt, A. (2010) Goodell, Big Ben and personal conduct. Retrieved January 28th 2011 from http://www. nationalfootballpost. com/Goodell-Big-Ben-and-personal-conduct. html Cole, J. (2010) CBA, Retired players among top issues for union. Retrieved January 28th, 2011 from http://sports. yahoo. com/nfl/news? slug=jc-issuesfacingunion031209 Huffman, J.