Repeat First Down: Tackling Second Chances in the NFL and Business

By James Tehrani

Sep. 19, 2014

I’ve been thinking a lot about second chances. Do “stars” get more opportunity at redemption than “regulars?”

In case you missed it, the Chicago Bears’ Pro Bowl wide receiver Brandon Marshall held a news conference on Sept. 18 to talk about domestic violence allegations made against him by his former girlfriend. The charges of alleged abuse, I might add, occurred when he played for the Denver Broncos — in 2006.

Why dredge up the past?

Simple. Domestic abuse and violence off the field are hot topics in the NFL right now with star players like Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson receiving suspensions for separate incidents. To spotlight the issue of abuse, ESPN recently re-ran a profile on Marshall that originally appeared a couple of years ago. Shortly after the report was shown, Gloria Allred, a high-profile civil rights lawyer who represents Marshall’s ex-girlfriend, rehashed Marshall’s situation in an attempt to show NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s lack of leadership when it comes to domestic violence.

As a Bears fan I may be biased, but I have heard nothing but good things about Marshall on and off the field since he came to Chicago in 2012. From all accounts, he has turned his life around. Marshall got a second chance, and I believe he deserved that second chance. Rice and Peterson almost got second chances as well, and they still might.

Initially Rice was suspended for only two games until TMZ released a video of the incident in question where his then-fiancée and current wife got knocked out. He has since been cut by the Baltimore Ravens and given an indefinite suspension by the league. Peterson, who is charged with injuring his son while spanking him with a “switch,” was initially reinstated to play for the Minnesota Vikings until the team reconsidered a couple of days later and put him on the exempt list so he cannot play. 

Marshall said something interesting at his press conference that caught my attention. He said, “You know I love controversy because it’s an opportunity, it’s a platform to talk about some of these issues.”

Good idea; let’s talk.

According to a 2012 fact sheet from the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, 24 people per minute are victims of rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner in the United States, and nearly 3 in 10 women and 1 in 10 men have experienced rape, physical violence or stalking by a significant other. In other words, it’s a big problem. You might even work with or know someone who has been abused, and chances are you don’t even know it because abuse often goes unreported.

Beyond domestic abuse, sexual harassment is a big issue in the workplace that often goes unreported as well. According to U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission statistics, an average of about 7,600 sexual harassment cases were filed each year between 2010 and 2013, which might not sound like a lot, but according to a Huffington Post/YouGov poll from last year of 1,000 adults, 70 percent of the people who had been sexually harassed at work did not report it.

One sexual harassment that came to light occurred when Mark Hurd was CEO of Hewlett-Packard Co. back in 2010. While HP said Hurd did not violate the company’s sexual harassment policy, the company did say he violated its standards of conduct policy when he took Jodie Fisher, a marketing contractor for HP, to dinner using company funds. A letter from Allred, who also represented Fisher, detailed a number of events where Hurd allegedly made sexual advances on her. Hurd settled the charges with Fisher privately and he was not charged or convicted of any crimes, but he eventually resigned from HP and got a golden parachute of $50 million. He later took a job as president of Oracle.

According to a Wall Street Journal article at the time, analysts said bringing Hurd to Oracle was a “coup” that would help the software giant “expand beyond its roots.” UBS analyst Brent Thill said in the story, “This is a guy who can take the company to the next level.”

Oracle stock has gone from about $25 a share in 2010 to closer to $40 today.

So it wasn’t too surprising that Hurd was named co-CEO when Larry Ellison announced he was stepping down from that post on Sept. 18. Hurd will run the company along with Safra Catz, one of the highest paid female executives in the country.

Maybe money speaks louder than actions when it comes to second chances.

American Apparel, for example, backed former CEO Dov Charney for years even after a number of sexual harassment allegations surfaced. The clothing manufacturer’s board finally let him go this summer. Is it any coincidence that the company made the move after losing more than $106 million in 2013 and $27 million the year before?

We see it in  professional sports quite a bit: Star athletes seem to get many chances. Ray Lewis comes to mind. He is a former NFL player who pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice charges after he faced murder charges in a case that remains unsolved, but he went on to play a key role in a Super Bowl win with the Ravens.

I’m all for giving people second chances, but my question to you, the HR community, is simple: Do star executives get second chances that others do not?

James Tehrani is the director of content strategy at FlexJobs.

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