Goodell to NFL Sponsors: 'We Are Going To Do Better'

NFL Commissioner Goes on Offense With Mea Culpa, Steps to Prevent Abuse

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After a week of relative silence, the NFL decided that the best defense would be a good offense.

Roger Goodell
Roger Goodell Credit: Jonathan Daniel

At a news conference today in midtown Manhattan, league Commissioner Roger Goodell read a statement outlining an array of reforms that will change how the league will set standards for the personal conduct of its players and employees.

He did not address specifics of his discussions with sponsors, some of whom have been publicly dissatisfied with the NFL's response to date over domestic abuse charges against several players. "I made it clear to sponsors directly that we are going to do better in this area," Mr. Goodell said. "Now we have to deliver."

"Many of [our sponsors] have promotions that are inconsistent with what's going on here," Mr. Goodell when asked about Procter & Gamble's Crest canceling an on-field activiation planned for the NFL's Breast Cancer Awareness month. "They want to see us make that difference, and it's up to us to deliver on that. They're not looking for talk. They want to see action."

Asked whether the league came close to losing any of its corporate partners, Mr. Goodell demurred. "You'll have to speak to the sponsors about that."

Mr. Goodell announced that the league would be requiring all NFL players and staff to undergo training and education to prevent abuse starting next month, and said that the NFL has entered into long-term partnerships with the National Domestic Violence Hotline and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.

"At our best, the NFL sets an example that makes a positive difference," Mr. Goodell said. "Unfortunately we have seen all too much of the NFL doing wrong. That starts with me."

After reading his statement, Mr. Goodell fielded an array of questions from reporters, mostly focused on the widespread calls for his resignation and details of the timeline of when the league received video footage of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice punching his then-fiancée, Janay Palmer, in the face.

While most of the changes Mr. Goodell alluded to in his statement, including the formation of a personal-conduct committee, will come into shape over the next few weeks, the league's support of the hotline and resource center will begin immediately.

The support will not be insubstantial. Though specific dollar amounts were not disclosed, it is believed to be among the largest donations a pro sports organization has ever made in the wake of negative publicity, according to William Chipps, a senior editor at sponsorship consultancy IEG.

With the NFL's self-described "significant donation," the National Domestic Abuse Hotline will be able to train and hire an additional 25 hotline staff, effectively doubling the hotline's manpower. "This really is transformational for us," said Katie Ray-Jones, president and chief executive of the hotline.

The outline of Mr. Goodell's plan seems to have resonated with some league partners, like FedEx. "We strongly support the NFL's announcement that it will partner with two national support organizations that offer assistance to victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse nationwide," said Patrick Fitzgerald, senior VP-marketing and communications at the company.

Earlier this week, a sternly worded statement from Anheuser Busch said it was "disappointed and increasingly concerned" by situation and that it was "not yet satisfied" with the league's response. Sitting somewhere in the middle, hotel chain Marriott stated it would "await the findings of the investigations" before reviewing its sponsorship.