Learn from NFL’s “Inspire Change” Ad Fumble: Acknowledge Your Mistakes

The NFL’s “Inspire Change” ad that aired during Super Bowl LV began with a few quick images of NFL players and a voiceover of Ladanian Tomlinson’s speech that he gave when he was inducted into the NFL’s Hall of Fame.

This advertisement showed a bunch of images associated with the Black Lives Matter movement: players and coaches linking arms on the sidelines, protestors carrying signs “No Justice, No Peace,” players with the names of Black people who were killed by police officers on the back of their helmets.

Wow. I thought. Could this be a shift from their prior position? I recalled how the NFL treated Colin Kaepernick, how his career came to an abrupt end when he was forced to choose between his values and football. I remembered, vividly, how other players, who shared Kaepernick’s horror at the repeated, unpunished police murdering Black people, were bullied into silence, lest they too lose their careers.

Eventually white script appeared on the screen, which stated, “The NFL is committing $250 million to help end systemic racism.”

The ad then closes with some images of players kneeling on the sidelines during the national anthem, and…

I was Furious.

I wasn’t alone. The NFL has received criticism and critiques on this ad across the board. From lay people commenting on the video to major publications, including The Atlantic and Fast Company.

Although the NFL ad missed the mark in many ways, there’s one biggie I want to share with you, as it illustrates a vital lesson for authors.

The NFL is a notoriously problematic institution, and they have a long history of fumbles when it comes to combating racism.

From what I’ve read recently, they’re working on it, which is better than not.

So, what’s the problem with the ad? Where’s the lesson for authors here?

The Problem:

The reason the “Inspire Change” Ad inspired so much vitriol and criticism is not for what was in it, but for what it left out: an apology—or even an acknowledgement of its terrible treatment of its own “family,”—the players and coaches who felt called to utilize their platform to bring attention to racist policing and to support the Black Lives Matter movement.

Had the NFL added a mere acknowledgement of “We messed up. We were wrong. We now see the error of our former position and our ways,” I would have stood up and celebrated them.

But that’s not what happened.

They acted as if they were always on the side of social justice. They used the ad to give themselves a pat on the back.


The Lesson:

We all make mistakes. Some public, some not.

Some of us have worked for organizations that have made very big and very public mistakes.

None of this is a problem for you as an author unless and until you are writing a book that teaches a value, strategy, tactic or mindset that is incongruent with anything that you did. Especially, but not only, a highly visible thing.

When you’ve been involved in some action or organization that has garnered negative publicity, you must acknowledge it in your book somewhere. Even if you didn’t work directly with the people or project involved, you’ve got to account for it.

If you don’t, your past becomes the bloody hippopotamus head in the middle of the room. The one that you pretend isn’t there while all your readers stare in horror.

Not only will this distract your reader, it will fatally undermine your credibility.

Even if you have an incongruence in your past that has never been made public, if it’s germane to your teaching, you still should acknowledge it.

You can say, “I used to believe this,” or “I used to behave this way, but I’ve learned why that isn’t productive or helpful, and I’ve shifted.”

Ironically, this kind of admission does wonders for your credibility with readers. Not only will they trust you, but your growth will inspire theirs.

The Bottom Line is This:

The NFL “Inspire Change” commercial was a PR stunt turned PR nightmare. They made a self-congratulatory ad while they failed to acknowledge their problematic past. Don’t make the same mistake in your book.