No matter how big or small they are, now more than ever corporations are held accountable for their actions outside of the products and services they provide. In the age of social media and lightning-fast online interactions, consumer sentiment about a brand or company can change quickly if scandal arises. The actions of their CEO, for example, can directly impact the consumer’s perception of that company, least to say that it will directly affect the end user’s desire to purchase from said company or not. In the case of Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, who was Uber’s CEO from 2010 to 2017, the repercussions of his unethical work behavior trail him – and the company – to this day. Uber’s board of directors asked him to resign, lest they risk further peripheral damage on account of his dismal cultural leadership at the ridesharing company.
To combat ‘bad CEO behavior’ or to promote an image of corporate social responsibility, companies have learned to value the importance of aligning with a cause that helps the planet, humanity, the environment, climate, and the like, to (selfishly or selflessly) boost (or, manipulate) consumer perception. It is simply no longer enough provide a product or a service and expect customers to flock toward the benefits of said product/service. Differentiation from the competition can come from how ‘good’ a brand, or a company, is perceived to be. And this can be a hit or miss.
One organization that missed the mark was the NFL, the National Football League. While the NFL could not have anticipated the force of nature that the Black Lives Matter movement would become, forcing companies to face the endemic racism in their companies, they could have discussed matters of disversity, cultural sensitivity, and racism within their ranks before outright blacklisting Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick, a quarterback who to this day is still a free agent, became a civil rights activist as a result of his ‘taking the knee’ when the national anthem played. This was his way of voicing concern about police brutality and racial inequality in America.
While the NFL did not outright say that Kapernick’s political statements impacted his current situation (of not being able to play), and although collusion between NFL league owners and teams have not been confirmed, the NFL did not provide the support that he needed to continue playing despite his political views. This is why – when George Floyd was murdered and the flames of social injustice were lit throughout America the world – it did not just fall on deaf ears when the NFL jumped on the proverbial bandwagon by releasing this statement:
The statement above caused a huge outrage among netizens. Why?
A crucial tenet in corporate social responsibility is for a company to be genuine about their efforts. Authenticity builds consumer-based brand equity. It’s not just about creating positive associations – it’s about taking corporeate responsiblity.
The anger was palpable. The Tweets came strong, hard, and fast by enraged NFL fans (and regular, non sporty folk), who saw they hypocrisy of such a statement.
Since facing this strong backlash – that may very well have been a career-ender if it were any other organization other than the beloved National Football League with their legions of fans from all around the world – the NFL has addressed criticism by enacting social programs. Before doing so, however, Roger Goodell, the NFL commissioner, issued an apology video, where he stated:
“We, the National Football League, condemn racism and the systematic oppression of Black people… The league admit[s] we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage[s] all to speak out and peacefully protest. We, the NFL, believe Black Lives Matter.”
NFL created “Inspire Change,” where the league works with the Players Coalition, an independent 501(c)(3) entity, and the NFL teams to support initiatives that eliminate barriers to opportunity.
After this first, tiny, baby step toward redemption, redemption may still be possible, and it shows just why social responsibility is no longer just that. It’s all about corporate social accountability now.