NFL Crisis – by Bart Rossi, Ph.D. Political Psychologist, NJ Licensed Psychologist
As a Political Psychologist I am very critical of the NFL and Commissioner Roger Goodell. Certainly I do not blame the Commissioner for the actions of some players who have obvious behavioral problems. And before we start with any criticism it is important to point out how many players conduct themselves extremely well and donate time and money to the community. However, there are a number of issues that relate back to Commissioner Goodell.
My major problem with the Commissioner’s performance during this Ray Rice debacle is that he has not presented himself as the “leader” who is first and foremost interested in understanding domestic violence. It is fine that he is now associating the NFL with women’s groups but he has not said that he as the “top coach” in the league is making every effort to learn about the causes/psychological problems that relate directly to domestic violence. Like many today in contemporary society the “talk” is around mental health and behavioral problems. How do you come up with policy and a practice to address this issue if there is not the proper effort to understand and consider what leads up this type of extreme acting out?
In my opinion the Commissioner should have said from the beginning of the Ray Rice fiasco that he must learn about the causes and appropriate strategies that can help players with what psychologists call “explosive personalities.” Goodell could have said that he is looking into the type of counseling and sustained effort that is needed to help players who carry anger to the extreme. He could have said that he wants to learn about why some players are very adept at being especially competitive in a violent sport like football but can leave their anger between the lines. The internal conflicts that some people have, and that obviously includes football players, is at times so unresolved that the individual is likely to “explode” emotionally and do something rash and problematic. Certainly there are examples in the NFL, other professional leagues, and in the rest of the population that indicate a pattern and practice of this type of behavior. In other cases the retained anger and conflict relates to infrequent but dangerous behavior.
In short, Mr. Goodell should be presenting himself in a different manner. He would look much better from a public relations standpoint if he could talk freely about what he is attempting to learn. He then might be able to think about the remarkable successful approaches/strategies psychologists have developed in the framework of Cognitive Behavioral Treatment. He would look better and paint a more positive image of the NFL if he and the “League” were actually looking at what kind of programming is needed to identify and deal with players who have the internal conflicts and anger that relate directly to domestic violence and personality problems.
Finally, leadership should start with basic understanding, a projection of personal interest in learning what the causes and strategies should be in dealing with a major problem, and a persona that highlights his own special concerns and considerations. In this regard the Commissioner and the NFL have come up very short on “third down and one.”