by Rene A. Henry

SEATTLE, Wash., March XX – I’ve authored two books on crisis management and communications and in both I cite five crises as being generic to any company, organization and institution. Today there is a sixth: political correctness.


            If someone feels offended for virtually any reason this now can exacerbate into a crisis. Colleges and universities seem to be under the greatest pressure for change and many have been very quick to respond to any protest.


            For years the five generic crises were terrorism; Mother Nature and the weather; sexual harassment and discrimination; violence in the workplace; and environmental pollution. And the media has been filled with stories recently with crises in almost every category. All need to be addressed in any crisis management and communications plan.


            Additionally there are crises specific to a particular business or industry. Any food producer or food server has to be prepared for cases of Salmonella, Listeria, and E-Coli and other types of food poisoning. The medical profession and hospitals need to be prepared for various types of infections, diseases and deaths. Almost daily the airlines experience air rage.


            A committee of Harvard Law School faculty, students, alumni and staff has recommended its shield no longer be the official symbol because it is modeled on the family crest of an 18th century slaveholder. Students at Princeton are demanding that the university remove the name and all images of Woodrow Wilson because they consider him a racist. Some students at The College of William & Mary want a statue of Thomas Jefferson, an alumnus, removed from campus because he kept slaves. The protestors have made no mention about closing his Monticello plantation, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, or the University of Virginia that he founded, or the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C.


            The trustees of Amherst College voted to no longer use any references to Lord Jeffrey Amherst, the Colonial-era military commander after whom the town and college are named, because he gave smallpox-infected blankets to Native Americans. The name the Lord Jeffrey Inn will be removed from a campus hotel owned by the college and Lord Jeffs no longer will be the mascot. Alumni are divided over the issue. The trustees made no mention of changing the name of the college or the town. 


            Students at the University of Cape Town in South Africa had a campus statue of Cecil Rhodes removed and have called for Oxford to do the same where he endowed scholarships. Rhodes was a British businessman, mining magnate and Prime Minister of the Cape Colony and the student protestors call him the “Hitler of southern Africa.” Alumni at Oxford’s Oriel College threatened to withdraw their financial support unless they rejected the students’ demands.


            In the mid-2000s the National Collegiate Athletic Association ordered its member colleges to change mascots and nicknames if any could be considered “hostile and offensive” to Native Americans. Central Michigan, Florida State, Mississippi College and Utah all fought back and did not change. However, its member schools lag far behind professional leagues when considering minorities and women in coaching and executive positions.


The NCAA and its members could learn a great deal from both the National Basketball Association and the National Football League. The NFL established the Rooney Rule in 2003, named after Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney, that requires teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching and senior football executive jobs. In 2011 the NFL had eight Black head coaches representing 25 percent of its 32 teams. This year the number was five Black and one Hispanic for 18 percent. Legal scholars have advocated the NCAA adopt the Rooney Rule for colleges where the number of minority head football coaches is around only six percent.


During Super Bowl 50 this year, Commissioner Roger Goodell announced that the NFL is extending the Rooney Rule to include women for executive positions at the league office. He said the NFL now has women assistant coaches in Miami and Buffalo and its first female official. Women have been in executive management positions for 16 years.


The NCAA has not adopted the Rooney Rule or anything comparable, but in January its board called for a renewed commitment to the values of diversity and inclusion and on April 16-18 will host a forum on inclusion. President Mark Emmert said the NCAA can’t require a rule similar to the NFL that mandates minority candidates be interviewed. I am told that since the NCAA is a private organization that it does have the legal ability and authority to require such a rule. It could certainly urge every member to do so and publicly applaud every member who does.


 “I’m concerned that we’re not seeing the pipelines getting filled up. If you look at FBS football, there’s not any growth in African-Americans getting coordinator positions. That’s the feeder into head coaching jobs,” Emmert said. “Why are women not being attracted into coaching positions as they once were?” Emmert did not respond when asked if he interviewed any women and minorities before he hired Oliver Luck to be his #2 at the NCAA or why both LSU and the University of Washington, the two universities where he was president before the NCAA, were not in compliance with Title IX.


In comparison, the NBA hasn’t had any policy, per se, but its 30 teams have 11 minority head coaches and two women assistant coaches and two women on its officiating staff as well as women in senior management positions at teams and the league office.


“Since the passage of Title IX some 44 years ago tremendous progress has been made in the way of opening up educational opportunities in all fields with the exception of sports,” said Donna de Varona, Olympic swimming gold medalist and former television sportscaster. “For 44 years just how Title IX is implemented in educational institutions in respect to sports has been a battlefield. There has been sporadic enforcement from Washington as well as the NCAA. It is time all educational institutions comply with the law.”


            According to Nancy Hogshead-Makar, CEO of Champion Women, the majority of Division 1 universities ae not in compliance with any of the three prong, or options, that universities can chose for Title IX compliance. Champion Women is in the midst of a multi-year project to the schools that are most out of compliance with Title IX to add women’s teams, scholarships and improve facilities, using data submitted by each school under the Equality In Athletic Disclosure Act. Consider this: just the top 10 universities that are Title IX non-compliant short women $25 million each year in scholarship dollars.


Topping the list was the University of North Carolina that needs to add 248 women athletes or between 5-12 new teams depending on the sport chosen and the size of the teams. The Tar Heels are already in serious trouble with the NCAA. In May 2015 the NCAA charged UNC with five academic-fraud violations including lack of institutional control for poor oversight of an academic department popular with athletes and the counselors who advised them. The least worst offender was Florida State University that needs to add between 80 and 100 female athletes to be in compliance.


            “An indication of how serious the president, general counsel, provost and other leaders at North Carolina consider their non-compliance was their response that they need 18 months to study their own data that was submitted under the law,” said Ms. Hogshead-Makar. “In that time-frame, women will forever lose more than $6 million in college scholarships.



            Members of Congress have been outspoken and aggressive in trying to force the Washington Redskins football team to change its name. However, these same people have been virtually silent regarding professional sports teams in other cities that have mascots, nicknames and logos that could be considered “hostile and offensive” to Native Americans. They should compare the comical caricature logo of the Cleveland Indians baseball team to the dignified logo of Washington.


            Call it hypocrisy or just plain stupid but Seattle is spending thousands of dollars to rewrite all of its laws, statutes, codes and regulations to be gender neutral but cannot find any money to alleviate a serious problem of homelessness. Seattle’s police department is spending thousands more to repaint all police cars from a public friendly blue and white to a militant, adversarial black.


            For years Alaska Airlines has had the face of an Eskimo on the tail of all of its planes. But when it introduced a new and refreshed brand earlier this year it had the line “Meet our Eskimo” which offended the Alaska Native community. Alaska CEO Brad Tilden immediately apologized, took full responsibility and the airline replaced the word “our” with “the” to read “Meet the Eskimo.” I believe Alaska’s public relations and customer service programs are the best in the industry.


            Soon companies, organizations and institutions are going to have to make decisions as to what degree changes will be made to accommodate people who are offended for any reason and want the solution to be rewriting history. And regarding Title IX, if our colleges and universities did the right thing there would be no need for legislation calling for equal opportunity.


Rene A. Henry lives in Seattle, has authored nine books, and writes on a variety of subjects. His “Communicating In A Crisis” is used as a textbook by colleges. In 1990 he was part of the team at the U.S. Department of Labor that implemented “The Glass Ceiling Initiative.” He spent 10 years of his professional career in higher education and five decades in sports at all levels.