Noted New York attorney, Gregory J. Wallance, recently penned an article for Forbes Leadership Forum on how NFL’s Commissioner, Roger Goodell, failed to follow standard corporate compliance policies which let Tom Brady off the hook. He went on to describe how the, “NFL might have won the Deflategate case in federal court if it had implemented basic compliance policies used by every major corporation in America.” The author correctly noted further that, “Responsible companies have compliance policies that explicitly spell out for employees that they are expected to comply with the law, that employees are expected to report violations of law by other employees of which they are aware, that they must cooperate with any internal investigations by the company, including preserving evidence, and that employees can be severely disciplined, including by termination, if they fail to meet these obligations.”
While these compliance policies are all essential to protect the interests of the company and its employees, they alone may not be enough. What the NFL and other major sports organizations need is an effective integrity and compliance program designed to establish a culture within an organization that promotes prevention, detection, and resolution of instances of conduct that do not conform to federal and state law, as well as the organization’s ethical and business policies. Adopting a formal integrity and compliance program would send a clear signal throughout the organization and to the general public that decent and legal behavior is expected.
While many sports organizations have some of the essential elements that are needed, few if any have designed and implemented effective enterprise-wide programs. Even fewer have programs with all of the attributes set forth in the Federal Sentencing Guidelines for organizations. While these key attributes within the Guidelines have become widely used by organizations seeking to proactively establish effective integrity and compliance programs, they are seldom seen in the sports industry. Scandals have become as much a part of sports as players, officials, and spectators and surely it won’t be long before today’s outrage is replaced by fresh indignation over some other antics, be they on-field or after hours. Ben Franklin once noted, “It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation and only one bad one to lose it.”
Well-designed, effective integrity and compliance programs eliminate the embarrassments that roil sports every season. Well-structured programs that have the support of top leaders in the organization would be a huge first step towards making it clear that ethical behavior is expected and there will be consequences for transgressors.