NFL CommissionerWe’ve recently been inundated by the news coming out of the NFL regarding domestic violence and child abuse perpetrated by some of the league’s star players, notably Ray Rice of the Baltimore Ravens, and Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings. Ray Rice was recently suspended from the Baltimore Ravens following the releases of a video showing him punching his then fiancée in the face during the heat of an argument. The punch knocked her unconscious in a hotel elevator after which he is seen dragging her body into the hallway. Within a week of his suspension,  Adrian Peterson was charged with child abuse after beating his stepson with a “switch”, or what my parents would have commonly referred to as a “hickory”, so badly that he actually injured the boy.

What does this behavior say about the organizational culture (OC) of the NFL? As we’ve previously noted, every organization has an OC – it’s either an intentional OC carefully crafted and nurtured as a competitive advantage driving high performance or it’s an accidental OC driven by the most influential (or manipulative) members of your organization that, if left unchecked can ultimately destroy your organization.

You OC is articulated through the outcome of The OC Equation™:


Values + Philosophies X Actions = OC


V = Values – The non-negotiable beliefs and principles of an organization. An organization’s values dictate decisions and behaviors and are that the heart of the OC

P = Philosophies – An organization’s philosophies are the embodiment of its values. In other words it’s how the values are intended to be demonstrated or “lived” by every employee every day

Actions = what gets rewarded and reinforced – not what you would like to get rewarded and reinforced, but what REALLY gets rewarded and reinforced. What do you hire for, reward and fire for?

OC = Organizational Culture – how things get done around here. And this is where your true competitive advantage lies because your competition can’t duplicate your OC

What Does The OC Equation™ Reveal About the OC of the NFL?

Let’s consider what the OC of the NFL is based on The OC Equation™.

The stated values of the NFL are:

  • Integrity
  • Performance & Teamwork
  • Tradition & Innovation
  • Diversity
  • Learning

The stated NFL Philosophies are:

  • Integrity – We safeguard the integrity of the game. We are ethical in all of our dealings with fans, clubs, business partners, and each other. We follow through on our words with action. We are honest and direct. We create an environment that inspires trust and confidence.
  • Performance & Teamwork – We expect from everyone in our organization the highest level of performance and commitment to our mission and values. We set the highest standards and challenge ourselves to keep improving. We are accountable for our results and consistently measure our progress. We make smart and informed business decisions. We work together, sharing knowledge, information and other resources to attain the best results. We focus on organizational objectives, not individual agendas.
  • Tradition & Innovation – We recognize that the NFL’s traditions are an asset, but we also embrace change. We do not rest on our accomplishments. We seek new ways of performing in response to fan interests, technology, and the best practices and business models of other organizations. We balance the need to change with the utmost respect for what has been accomplished. We are thoughtful and deliberate in our thinking, and always consider the long-term consequences of our decisions.
  • Diversity – We create an organization that represents, supports and celebrates diversity, while also embracing our shared interests. We represent and respect a wide range of human differences, personal experiences and cultural backgrounds for the benefit of the organization and our employees as individuals. We provide each employee with an opportunity to achieve his or her full potential.
  • Learning – We take individual responsibility for learning, personal growth, and career development. We actively support, as an organization, opportunities for individual development, but we recognize that personal talent and initiative will primarily drive individual growth. We encourage employees to seek learning opportunities both inside and outside the workplace.

Now that we know the NFL’s Values & Philosophies, it’s time to evaluate those against their actions. This is where the rubber actually hits the road. Forget the niceties that are written and displayed for the outside world, what do they really value as evidenced through their ACTIONS?

You “Live” Your OC through Your ACTIONS

When evaluating the NFL’s culture, we begin by looking at their actions. In other words, what does the NFL hire for, reward and fire for? Since January 2000, there have been a total of 731 arrests and alleged criminal incidents involving NFL players, including at least three players arrested for involvement in the deaths of other people; Aaron Hernandez, Jovan Belcher and Josh Bent.

Josh Brent, who was convicted of intoxicated manslaughter in the death of practice squad player Jerry Brown in 2012 is still an active NFL player for the Dallas Cowboys. Aaron Hernandez is charged in the deaths of three people (Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado in 2012 and Odin Lloyd in 2013) in two separate incidents. However, he was not released by the New England Patriots until he was arrested for the alleged 3rd murder of Odin Lloyd on June 26, 2013. Jovan Belcher was an NFL player for the Kansas City Chiefs until he murdered his girlfriend and then committed suicide on December 1, 2012.

So, based on the ACTIONS of the NFL, it appears their OC is one of “win at any costs and protect high performing players no matter what” (unless of course they murder at least 3 people or commit suicide), short of that, they may get a slap on the wrist for inappropriate behavior.

And that “win at all costs” culture doesn’t end with the NFL; it also permeates into college football as evidenced by the recent actions of Florida State University and Jimbo Fisher following rape allegations and obscene comments by their Heisman Trophy winner and starting quarterback Jameis Winston.

So, it would appear that the stated value of Integrity is not “lived” in the NFL culture. With that said, Jameis Winston will likely be a perfect NFL recruit – he matches their lived OC and be damned with his character or behavior.

Integrity Lost

According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, “In 1925, when Harold “Red” Grange—the Galloping Ghost, who lighted up the backfield at the University of Illinois—signed a pro contract with the Chicago Bears, his college coach Robert Zuppke disavowed the star halfback, declaring him persona non grata. As Columbia coach Lou Little said, “I’m out to make men first, and then football players.” What kind of a man would waste his life in that goon squad of a league?”

Brand Loyalty NFLApparently, based on analyzing the stated values, philosophies and actual actions of the NFL, the commissioner and the owners based on the elements of The OC Equation™, gone are the days when integrity meant “making men first and then football players”.  The NFL has allowed their accidental culture to take over resulting in a no holds barred mentality that’s now hurting their brand, their revenue and their profits. Following the recent bad publicity and grass roots efforts of many fans and activists, today the NFL is hypersensitive to employee behavior, not because of their OC, but because of the potential monetary hit to their brand.

And that’s how it is with OC – it’s not what you say, it’s what you do that really determines your OC and if it can be used as a competitive advantage.