Sunday, September 14, 2014

Why Do Scandals Get Worse

The thing that always surprises me is how a bad story - someone being violent, someone being inept, someone being greedy - goes from minor league to nuclear catastrophe within a heartbeat of the story getting out.

It's not even when a revelation about a minor crime turns into an expose of a major conspiracy, like Watergate.  It's just in any situation where there's a powerful person or an organization suddenly confronted with a problem he/she/they just doesn't know how to handle it, and then BOOM the entire structure of that person's powerbase implodes or that organization's impressive administrative order collapses.

I'm bringing this up in the wake of the NFL's (and commissioner Goodell's) Very Bad PR Week of mishandling the Ray Rice incident.  What went from a horrifying interpersonal assault in an Atlantic City casino back in February - that could have been calmly handled in the courts and through massive amounts of counseling - instead degraded into a months-long argument over how poorly the NFL handles domestic violence cases overall (in short: not well).

When Goodell handed down a mere (!) two-game suspension on Rice in July, it opened up the arguments about how tone-deaf the sports league was towards how domestic violence literally destroys women.  That the punishment for assaulting a women was less than a punishment doled out to a player caught with marijuana in his possession or his biosystem (and while pot is illegal, so is assault: and you can forge a strong argument that assault is a more serious crime than pot).  You could see in real-time the scrambling and back-pedaling that the NFL Front Office went through looking to come up with a stronger punishment code...

And then this past Monday just as Week One of the regular season kicked in, the media got ahold of the full video of what Ray Rice really did to his fiancee-now-wife Janay.

By that afternoon Ray Rice had been kicked off his Ravens team and the NFL had banned him indefinitely (although he could always get re-instated).

But this was getting worse and not better for the NFL and Goodell.  Because it begged the question: how the hell could a powerful organization like the NFL - an organization known to have its own army of investigators, and had months to get it - fail to see this video?

Each explanation - each excuse - that Goodell tried to offer came up more hopeless and inept and ill-advised than any of the earlier ones.  Reports kept cropping up that the NFL did get a copy of the video, that at least one executive did see the video, that all the league had to do was ask the casino for it and not the police or prosecutors' offices.  It wasn't helping that other players in the league facing the same legal issues as Rice - Greg Hardy, Ray MacDonald are two - are still playing without suspension... even though Hardy especially has been convicted in court of assaulting and threatening his ex-girlfriend.

The hypocrisy.  The sloppiness.  The willful ignorance of a powerful, money-driven organization.

How could the NFL - an organization that can successfully bully communities into building multi-billion-dollar jeweled stadiums for them even while generating profits from massive TV and marketing deals - be so clumsy, stupid and tone-deaf now over something like this?

Because of one simple, universal constant that happens to those in power: they lose any perspective about things like accountability and honesty.

It's not so much that power corrupts, it's that power puts people on a different level of authority and responsibility.  It's at a level where things like accountability - where you answer to a higher power than yourself - fade away, because you no longer have as many bosses or overseers watching your mistakes and correcting what you did wrong (either through training or dismissal).

That lack of accountability in high places creates a void of sorts: it creates an environment where the people in power believe themselves infallible, untouchable.  All because they rose to a level of prominence that makes them seemingly superior to all other mere mortals.

That's what happened, is happening here.  Goodell and the NFL - the owners, the players' union, the networks and corporations co-thriving with it all - view themselves akin to Gods On Earth: rich and powerful men (it's mostly men) who make life-and-death decisions about a money-generating sport/entertainment that enough people can't look away from.  Why should their judgment be questioned or their values argued?  Why are we blowing something like this out of proportion?  Don't we know who they are?

It's the same in politics and their media bubble, it's the same in any church of size and power, it's the same in any organization with money in its coffers and power to its name.  They simply can't comprehend why we'd raise a fuss over something they think they've already solved.

So they do the next step in the process of self-immolation.  The person/organization of power begins to lie about what they did.  He/She/They begin to claim "oh well we did X so therefore we're blameless", or "well it was someone else's fault".  They make up a half-truth story that slides into flat-out lying as the need to shift the blame elsewhere grows.

This is from the knee-jerk reaction: the self-defense.  The refusal to admit wrong-doing as that somehow looks worse than the growing web of lies to cover up the earlier mistake(s).  The person of power, the organization of power dare not consider the slight possibility of "OOPS that's on me," because such sloppiness and failure does not belong in "my" world.

And then those in power wonder why they fall.  They're compounding earlier mistakes with fresh ones.  Because lying at that level of responsibility and power is reckless: because there's bound to be someone out there with the evidence to prove you are lying.  Because the more you try to cover it up, the more people and resources you are dragging into the mess: people who may not want to lie to cover your ass; resources that may not fit the gaping holes in your faltering stories.

That's why scandals get worse.  The people in power refuse to hold themselves accountable and refuse to make genuine efforts to fix the problems that arise.  They'd rather lie, blame someone else, and let the problem fade away.

What's sad is why those in power already think that way: because that's how they acted on their way up the chain of command to the high seat they now hold... because they made all that money and gained all that influence through lying and blaming others in the first place.  Because there's a broken system of accountability in place already: they're merely profiting from the status quo.

We are as a nation and as a culture in dire need of reform.  Of bringing accountability and truth-telling back, of ending the fraud and spiritual wickedness in high places.

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