As part of Goodell Week at TheMMQB.com (I kicked things off with a look at 10 issues that should concern the Commissioner as his 10-year anniversary approaches), Peter King’s microsite delves into the new P.R. strategist who has been hired by the NFL after years of experience in politics.
Former press secretary Joe Lockhart to President Bill Clinton, as explained by Emily Kaplan of TheMMQB.com, is having a hard time with the primary job duty of improving the image of the president of professional football, Roger Goodell.
“Six months in, according to several people interviewed for this story, Lockhart has found that to be a hurdle,” Kaplan writes.
That sentence is followed by a parenthetical noting. for the record, that Lockhart declined comment on the record. But it’s hard to imagine Lockhart adding nothing at all to the process. Very often, someone who declines to officially speak will unofficially say plenty, in an effort to shape and guide the message created by an article in which the person will have no direct voice.
Given that Lockart’s job is to shape and guide messages, it’s hard not to wonder whether and to what extent an article missing Lockhart’s words nevertheless bear his fingerprints.
“Lockhart’s creativity will go only as far as Goodell will let him,” Kaplan writes. “So the first step: Get the commissioner to listen.”
Possible translation: The Commissioner isn’t listening to Lockhart as much as the Commissioner should. Maybe he’ll listen to this article and start listening.
If he’s listening (or reading), Goodell will be reminded of the time Lockhart suggested, while serving as a consultant during the Ray Rice P.R. crisis, that the league should take a similar rules/committee-based approach to off-field misconduct that it applies to on-field issues.
“A few top executives were lukewarm to the idea,” Kaplan writes. “Goodell, according to a source, liked it immediately. The new personal conduct policy was developed, and put in place later that season.”
Never mind the fact that a Personal Conduct Policy already existed. This is about building up Lockhart’s bona fides so that he’ll earn the ear of Goodell.
“Goodell’s greatest strength as commissioner is his unparalleled knowledge of the league,” Kaplan writes. “He has essentially never worked anywhere else. That, too, is his biggest vulnerability. If the commissioner wants to rehab the league’s image, he needs to give Lockhart a seat at the table — and a microphone, too. That’s how it went at the White House.”
That’s apparently not how it’s going so far at 345 Park Avenue. Goodell isn’t listening, yet. So Lockhart doesn’t have a seat at the table, yet. And Lockhart isn’t going to be able to succeed in his role of revamping Roger’s image if he refuses to listen or to give Lockhart a seat at the table.
Whether Lockhart is using P.R. skills that carried him to the height of politics to position himself to best use those P.R. skills on behalf of pro football isn’t and won’t be known. But given the message sent by the article, it doesn’t take a genius (which qualifies me for the task) to suspect that Lockhart is already frustrated in his new role, and that he hopes Goodell will read and heed the messages contained in an article for which, technically, Lockhart declined comment.