Prevention, detection, and correction – sounds pretty simple, doesn’t it? And yet those are the essential components of any effective integrity and compliance program.
So why haven’t professional sports teams developed and implemented effective programs to date? There are likely as many reasons as there are teams, but perhaps in sports, “two out of three” is considered a pretty good average. If a professional baseball player batted .667, he’d be the best who’s ever played the game. In pro football, few quarterbacks have ever completed two-thirds of their passes over an entire season. And in professional basketball, any player who scored two-thirds of his field goal attempts …,well, you get the picture. So if a professional sports team had a pretty good detection (identifying instances of malfeasance and wrongdoing) and correction (fines and suspensions) program, maybe, just maybe, the owners and general managers would believe they’ re doing a pretty good job.
But the reality is that the primary purpose of any risk management, or integrity, or compliance, or ethics program is to PREVENT incidents from occurring that could damage an organization’s brand, its reputation, and its assets. After all, in sports, as much as in any industry, integrity matters. Integrity is the integration of outward actions and inner values. Integrity is most fundamental to sport. Corruption or almost any type of wrongdoing erodes the very spirit of sport.
So let’s take a look at the latest instance of wrongdoing in professional sports. But first, just a little background. Almost two years ago, it started in LA (La-La-Land) when then Los Angeles Clippers’ owner, Donald Sterling, was recorded telling his then girlfriend, “don’t bring black people to my games, including Magic Johnson.” What followed, the likes of which the NBA had not seen in some time, was much turmoil and negative publicity and ultimately the sale of the Clippers to former Microsoft CEO, Steve Ballmer, for a record $2 billion.
Now, fast forward to January of this year, when Clippers forward, Blake Griffin, repeatedly pummeled a team assistant equipment manager following dinner at a restaurant in Toronto. In the process, Griffin wo und up with a broken hand which will keep him off the court for 4-6 week s and the equipment manager walked away with a severely swollen face , a bruised ego, and potentially a threat to his continued employment with the Clippers. As for Ballmer and his $2 billion investment , the team’s brand, its reputation and perhaps even its assets, have surely been diminished or maybe even severely damaged.
Now we all know that no integrity/compliance/ethics program can assure that all instances of wrongdoing in an organization can be prevented every time. But we also know that an effective program can go a long ways towards protecting the organization, its owner(s), the staff, and the players themselves.
So here’s where we are with the Clippers: the organization’s brand has been severely tarnished, its leading player will be sidelined for an extended time which could result in additional team losses and a lower seeding in the playoffs and a very substantial loss in revenue since the team was expected to perform well in the playoffs. In addition, Griffin’s reputation has been damaged to the point where he may be remembered more for his punches than for his all-star performances.
So, perhaps “two out of three” is not nearly enough. Every aspect of the incident in Toronto will be investigated (detection), and it will likely result in a fine and suspension (correction) by the team and possibly the NBA. However, unless Ballmer takes steps to implement a PREVENTION program, in effect, implementing all the three core components of an effective integrity and compliance program, the opportunity to learn from this team disaster, and reduce the likelihood of future damage to the organization’s assets, will be missed.
Implementing the PREVENTION piece of an integrity/ethics/compliance program is neither complex, nor costly. Its primary advantage is to keep small problems from becoming large problems. Imagine the opportunities available to your brand, and competitive sport in general, when the path to championships is not threatened by off the-court transgressions.