But I was left with another impression: Chiefs fans (and at least one player) doing the tomahawk chop. Seriously?
The NFL has sometimes been controversial (for example, its first responses to Colin Kapernick's protests), but recently seemed to plant both feet squarely in making a positive impact on diversity, equity and inclusivity.
In the summer of 2020, a group of NFL players released a video calling attention to the NFL’s shortcomings regarding racial equity. Shortly after, Commissioner Roger Goodell released his own video (albeit akin to a hostage video) supporting the players’ messages and committing the NFL to denouncing racism.
For 2021, the NFL implemented a program through which players could choose from a variety of anti-racism, anti-hate, diversity and inclusion messages on their helmets. These messages were reinforced by endzone stencils proclaiming, “It Takes All of Us” and “End Racism.” Much of this is under the "Inspire Change" initiative, aligned with the NFL’s mission and values. Pretty cool, right?
This season, the NFL had its best viewership ratings since 2015. More than 17 million viewers per game saw the NFL’s evolved message. But there’s a disconnect here.
How does an organization like the NFL make such a public commitment to stopping racism and ending hate, yet have a team continue to play with a name and fan behaviors that are clearly racist? How does an organization that touts values of respect, integrity, responsibility, and resilience turn their back on abhorrent player behavior off the field?
I believe it’s because their principles appear to be stuck in marketing and PR. They haven’t infiltrated the entire organization where they come to life, where they become authentic, where they have exceptional power.
To really "Inspire Change," the NFL needs to cement its principles with owners, managers, and fans. It needs to set the standard for player expectations and community engagement. Its principles need to align with it promotional partners and advertisers.
This all takes time and investment. But imagine the impact the NFL could have, say 10 years from now, if its leaders embrace their principles throughout every aspect of the organization. Their return on principles (ROP) could move people, business and even culture forward.