SBJ/October 9-15, 2017/Opinion

NFL public relations falls short of ‘transparency’

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Members of the Pro Football Writers of America read with interest the article outlining how the NFL public relations department has a new “forceful communications approach” when dealing with the media and league issues.

Of particular interest was the comment from Joe Lockhart, the league’s executive vice president of communications since January 2016, who was quoted as saying: “We have pushed to be transparent. There is a strong sense that the game, and the platform and the NFL, is a very strong uniting force in this country and we have an obligation to be open and honest. That is what we try to do every day.”

Unfortunately, the league’s actions have not consistently matched Lockhart’s words. For example:

The league has yet to invite ALL national media to participate in the weekly conference calls with Lockhart that were referenced in the story. In fact, only select reporters have received emails inviting them to join in. How can there be transparency if only select reporters are told about them ahead of time?

Zeke Elliott was suspended six games by the league for alleged domestic violence, yet in the notification letter that was made public the league failed to mention that Kia Roberts — the NFL’s lead investigator and the only person to interview the accuser — recommended no suspension for Elliott because of credibility issues with the accuser. The league also refused to make the commissioner available for cross examination in the appeals hearing. Is that transparency?

Reporters on multiple occasions have reached out to Lockhart on serious league issues, yet failed each time to receive a response. Is that transparency?

Our membership believes true transparency requires access to the key decision-makers, something that has decreased in recent years, not increased. For instance, commissioner Roger Goodell attended the Chargers’ first preseason game in Los Angeles following the franchise’s controversial move from San Diego. Local reporters were interested in hearing his views on the success of the move to that point, but he did not make himself available. Is that transparency?

As Lockhart stated, improved transparency can’t be measured in a sample size of a few weeks. But the narrative that the league is being more open and transparent (and accessible) is disingenuous at best and inaccurate at worst. Even on the lower end of the food chain, PFWA members continue to fight for issues like accurate injury reports and access to assistant coaches, not to mention strict enforcement of the media policy.

Michael Signora, the league’s liaison with the PFWA, always has handled our discussions with professionalism and integrity. We thank the league for his assistance. But to allow Lockhart to say that his office and, by extension, the commissioner’s office is more transparent because of a few conference calls is thin at best — particularly when transparency is measured over the long haul and, most importantly, when it limits access to key decision-makers in situations the league may not be comfortable with.

Jim Trotter
President, PFWA

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