State of the NFL: A Problem of Motivation


The State of the NFL is not good. Understatement right? Greg Hardy, Ray Rice, Ray McDonald and Adrian Peterson are now names that casual sports fans know, and not because of fantasy football. The NFL’s handling of these situations, as well as the one involving Josh Gordon, has shown a complete lack of integrity, grit and fortitude to make a decision. Lumped into “The NFL” is the commissioner, the owners and to a less extent the NFLPA. The collective NFL has allowed for off the field issues to cloud the first 2 weeks of the regular season. Many even diehard sports fans have little information on the other storylines going on around the league because of how the NFL has handled these cases.

The State of the NFL is a problem of motivation. This Office Space clip gives a humorous account of the problem of motivation:

So what is the NFL’s motivation? Is it just money? Is it worried about PR hits? A Peter Gibbons says are they just worried about getting fired and working just hard enough to not let that happen?

The important thing to know about motivation, both personal and collective motivation, is that there are two kinds. As a counselor for 13 years, with a Master’s Degree and License to practice in the State of Ohio, I can tell you that motivation is 1 of 2 keys to a successful person. The second is that person’s own belief in their ability. So what do we know about motivation?

There are 2 kinds of motivation: Internal and External. We all have a general predisposition to one type of motivation or the other but that propensity is not definitive. Based on training, cognitive restructuring (thinking differently) and trial and error motivation can be developed in a more balanced way between the two.

Now to the “bad” news. 75% of people are externally motivated. They are motivated to work because they get paid. They are motivated to work because their boss is around or might find out. They are motivated to do the right thing for fear of consequences not because it is the right thing to do. Before anyone starts to feel judged remember that this applies to about 75% of people, whether they want to admit it or not. It applies to me. I didn’t know it applied to me until I was presented with it. Since then I have worked hard to move more towards internal motivation. Not an easy process.

Internal motivated people are unique indeed. Only about 25% intrinsically are internally motivated. These people will work hard whether their boss is in or not. They will do the right thing no matter what the consequences are. They will come in early and stay late without anyone being aware. Their decision are based on what they internally believe to be the right decision not what the external results may be. Their Locus of Control is themselves.

The NFL has shown that their Locus of Control is external. They changed the Domestic Violence policy only after a public outcry from people seeing the first Rice video and not approving of the 2 game suspension. They suspended him indefinitely only after the second video was released and the public reaction was even stronger. They Vikings knew about the Peterson court case long before the general public but only deactivated him once the news became public after the indictment. Than again the Vikings were quicker than the Panthers, or the NFL, with the Greg Hardy case. He is currently guilty of a serious crime and though he is appealing he played in Week 1 and was only deactivated after the Vikings deactivated Peterson.

(Update: And now, in the middle of the night, the Vikings have basically told Peterson to go away until his legal situation is cleared up. The external motivation of a couple big sponsors putting the leagues problems out as a concern for them gets things moving. Wonder what the Panthers will do now?)

I think the Cleveland Browns organization had this problem for some time. The team has been terrible but the fans show up and pay so why change? Externally motivated people would see the outcome, sellouts, as the most important thing. We change coaches, they still come. We are terrible, they still come. We change regimes every 2 years, they still come. Browns fans have felt this for far to long. The Jimmy Haslam regime, except for that whole Flying J/FBI thing, seem far more internally motivated.

It is a Problem of Motivation in the current state of the NFL. As individuals it is a difficult process to become more internally motivated as an organization it is less so. Internally motivated focus on the process and believe the outcome will work out well. Externally motivated companies focus on getting outcomes in-spite of what steps they need to take to get to their outcomes. Companies like Google, Facebook and many others have adopted a internally motivated process. Those organizations have also been wildly successful.

Will the NFL start to lead in a new way soon? Will they be driven by what the right decision is and not just what they hope the outcomes are? If they don’t solve their problem of motivation the state of the NFL may soon look like that fake company from Office Space, Initech, at the end: