McMullen: Josh Brown case highlights NFL’s communication flaws

When you are under the microscope, everything is going to be examined.

Take John Mara’s statement after the New York Giants finally moved on from Josh Brown in a decision most thought the organization should have made months ago.

“We believed we did the right thing at every juncture in our relationship with Josh,” Mara explained before pivoting toward contradiction. “Our beliefs, our judgments and our decisions were misguided. We accept that responsibility.”

Brown, of course, is now a toxic pariah after journals of his were recently released by the King County, Washington Sheriff’s Office in which the kicker admitted to abusing his ex-wife.

As far as Mara’s strange take, common sense says it’s a tough sell to say you believe you’ve done the right thing at every turn while also being misguided, but parsing language shouldn’t be what’s important here.

Getting it right should be the goal. As usual, the NFL has taken a public-relations hit over its handling of the Brown issue — a one-game suspension followed by a trip to the Commissioner’s Exempt List after the document dump by the King County sheriff.

Most recently, Roger Goodell caused a kerfuffle across the pond over the weekend when speaking with BBC Sport’s Richard Conway while in London for the New York Giants-Los Angeles Rams game.

Asked how players can be punished for things like excessive celebrations, but an admitted domestic abuser like Brown only served a one-game suspension, Goodell answered honestly: “I understand the public’s misunderstanding of those things and how that can be difficult for them to understand how we get to those positions. But those are things that we have to do. I think it’s a lot deeper and a lot more complicated than it appears but it gets a lot of focus.”

Take out “things we have to do,” and it’s the right assessment.

For instance, the NFL “doesn’t have to” alienate its fan base with its over-the-top regulation of things like celebration penalties and uniform violations, it chooses to and many, including yours truly, believe it to be a specious decision.

However, the league does need to tread lightly when it comes to legal issues involving one of its players because that has repercussions far outside 345 Park Avenue.

In other words, the courts in this country have no interest in how the league legislates its game, but if the NFL say decided to banish a player like Brown, a man who was never convicted of a crime, because of public sentiment, well that could be an untenable position once the NFLPA and Brown decide to fight it.

Goodell, of course, predictably failed to get his point across because he’s got the communication skills and credibility of a certain crooked politician.

So, he was labeled as tone deaf by most of the media who really don’t understand how difficult it is for a business the size of the NFL to handle a hot-button issue like domestic violence, especially after the legal system failed to do its job in punishing an admitted abuser.

All that said, though, a lot of these wounds from the NFL’s standpoint are self-inflicted because of things like Goodell’s new domestic-violence policy, which promised to suspend first-time offenders for six games.

Two things with that: despite what you’ve read ad nauseam, there was actually no “new” policy and nothing collectively bargained with the players. It was just the promise of one man, unilaterally implementing arbitrary punishments he couldn’t possibly hand out due to those legal restrictions we talked about.

To put it bluntly, if King County, Washington didn’t prosecute Brown for this incident, what makes you think the NFL can ban Brown with impunity?

By no means should you feel sorry for the NFL, though, which, when it comes to scandal, runs its business to get to the next day in order to placate those uneducated masses.


Because it’s far more difficult to teach and much easier to just give people what they want, especially when the torches are lit and the pitchforks are already out.

As for Brown, this was a Giants’ issue from the start because they, as an organization, are on much firmer ground in that they could have released him immediately and argued that the veteran kicker was hurting their specific brand if there was any push back (which there wouldn’t have been).

Meanwhile, other NFL teams would have probably not gone near such a toxic asset and the effect of a ban is in place without the illegal act of actually banishing the player.

A simple solution to a complex problem.

-John McMullen is a national football columnist for FanRagSports.com and TodaysPigskin.com. You can reach him at jmcmullen44@gmail.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen — Also catch John each week during the NFL season ESPN South Jersey, ESPN Southwest Florida, ESPN Lexington, KDWN in Las Vegas, and check @JFMcMullen for John’s upcoming appearances on SB Nation Radio, FOX Sports Radio, CBS Sports Radio as well as dozens of local radio stations across North America.

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