Repeating history, the major professional sports leagues in the U.S. continue to be plagued by scandals involving, among other issues, allegations of sexual and domestic abuse, opioids abuse, and racial discrimination in the hiring of football coaches. Recently, the subject of fixing the results of NFL football games hit the news in the form of an allegation by former Miami Dolphins’ head coach Brian Flores that he had been offered by the team’s owner $100,000 per game to lose games with an eye towards the Dolphins receiving higher selections in the draft. In fact, scandals and problems seem to dominate “sports” news, as evidenced by a single February 10, 2022 edition of the LA Times, where the following articles were all featured in the sports section:
Clearly, not every MLB, NFL, NBA, or NHL teams have experienced scandals on the level of those reported above. Regardless, all league executives and team owners and their executives should be concerned about the risks they could face with just a single major scandal involving their organizations. Over the past several years, league executives have taken steps to improve their compliance, ethics and integrity programs. However, none that I am aware of have established formal minimum standards for their teams’ programs. In many instances, hotlines have been established, training programs have been strengthened, and/or codes of conduct have been updated – but none of the leagues or their member teams have established truly effective or complete compliance and ethics programs consistent with industry standards and best practices.
On a number of recent occasions, NFL Commissioner Goodell has publicly stated, “The NFL should be held to a higher standard.” Surely NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman share similar sentiments. Towards that end, the governing boards of these four professional leagues now have an opportunity to set new standards for their teams and to adopt “Minimum Standards for an Effective Compliance and Ethics Programs for Professional Sports Teams.” To provide the needed assistance and guidance to their teams in establishing such programs, the leagues could employ staff or engage professional compliance consultants. The goal of each league should be to encourage each of their member teams to establish effective compliance and ethics programs designed to prevent wrongdoing in the workplace that have led to the scandals seen so often in professional sports today.
Each professional league establishing its own minimum standards for its member teams would go a long way toward assuring the sports world and the public at large of its commitment to ensuring compliance, ethics and integrity in all of its operations.
The sample minimum standards as outlined below could be a fresh start for professional sports in their quest for a future free of scandals and misbehavior.
Minimum Standards for an Effective Compliance and Ethics Programs for Professional Sports Teams
These sample minimum standards are based on and generally consistent with the U.S. Sentencing Commission Guidelines for Organizations. All sorts of business organizations adopting such standards have benefited. Professional sports organizations would benefit as well, and such programs could lead to focusing the news more on what happens on the playing field instead of the negative activity off of it.