As we all know, the NFL lockout will remain in place after a 2-1 decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit. The court found that the NFL would suffer irreparable harm without a stay of a lower court order enjoining the lockout.
The ruling creates a bit of a setback for fans who must remain on the sidelines and continue to hope for a speedy resolution.
More than likely, the lockout will remain in place at least until the June 3 hearing or longer. The downtime allows the parties to refine their legal strategies and position themselves for the next round in court.
Until then, players — who also are prohibited from having any contact with coaches and trainers — are being forced to prepare for the upcoming season on their own. Case in point, top returning wide receiver Anthony Armstrong of the Washington Redskins is spending his downtime coaching kids on a soccer team. He has shown that idle time offers a perfect opportunity to do something good.
On the other hand, some players have taken the downtime for granted. Worse, a growing number of NFL players are getting themselves arrested. Idle hands disport in the devil’s playground.
It all underscores the importance of using peacetime wisely.
Professional athletes, as we all know, are prime targets for controversy and scandal. Such dynamics launched TMZ Sports. No wonder NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell issued a memorandum to all general managers, team presidents, coaches and clubs reminding them of the league's personal-conduct policy a month ago.
Alas, memoranda are no solvent against reputational assaults faced by athletes and sports franchises. Only the professional athletes themselves, and their representative organizations, can deflect harsh criticism when problems arise.
Downtime, whether it’s during a labor dispute, or during the crucial weeks and days before a controversy goes public, is opportunity. It is when events are quiescent that sports franchises should prepare their players for off-the-field challenges. Crisis or reputation management teams should be created to provide appropriate counsel and training on how to handle game-changing exigencies.
Sports franchises and players need to positively ‘flood the zone’ in order to protect the brands they have worked hard to build over the years. By doing something – anything – positive, they can recruit a solid base of brand advocates before trouble comes a-knocking. It will lighten the blow and provide a more balanced prospective for sponsors and other key stakeholders.
Crisis is inevitable. The issue is not whether a game-changing ruling or event will occur but when it will occur – and how much equity you’ve got in the reputational bank when it does.