As Memorial Day weekend approaches, the NFL has had a week to forget.
Things started to go off the rails on Tuesday, when some fans reacted strongly to a revised kickoff rule that could be a precursor to getting rid of the kickoff altogether. Later that day, NFL V.P. of officiating Al Riveron made it clear that the new helmet rule applies in the trenches, enhancing concerns that the prohibition against lowering the helmet and initiating contact will change the game dramatically.
But that was nothing in comparison to the decision to pick at a scab in a way that nearly severed an artery, courtesy of the clumsy change to the anthem policy. For the first time since the President attacked the NFL and its players over a controversy that had come close to sliding off the back burner, the NFL’s handling of the anthem became mainstream news all over again, with few if any happy about the current status of the rule.
Through it all, the NFL has had no in-house, senior-level, P.R. executive. Although the former Senior V.P. of Communications, Joe Lockhart, originally planned to remain on the job until his replacement was hired, Lockhart left before that happened. There has been no announcement or report regarding Lockhart’s replacement. (The league has not responded to multiple emails requesting an update.)
While it’s likely that the league has been using P.R. consultants for these matters, what multi-billion-dollar organization with such clear ties to the public would venture into such a controversial topic without a highly-compensated P.R. specialist at the elbow of the Commissioner? While there’s no guarantee that the NFL would have gotten it right with the benefit of someone in Lockhart’s old job (indeed, the league has had plenty of blunders in recent years with the position filled), the unforced error committed by the league becomes even more unforced and even more of an error given that the P.R. plane has an empty cockpit.
The sooner the NFL hires a new Lockhart, the better off the NFL will be. But the asking price may be going up, and the extra money could be justified by regarding it as hazard pay.