By David D. Dodge
The National Football League (NFL) recently announced its search for a newly created position in its New York League office, Director, Compliance. This is news – big news.
The major professional sports leagues in the U.S. – the NFL, the National Basketball Association (NBA), Major League Baseball, and the National Hockey League – have traditionally employed personnel to identify and manage risk. However, the NFL’s action to engage a high-level compliance officer responsible for ensuring effective policies and procedures are in place to mitigate legal, financial and reputational risks is a bold step.
In its job description for the new position, the NFL stated that its “Director, Compliance, will assist the Vice President of Compliance in promoting a corporate culture where employees meet the NFL’s core values, acting with integrity and following the highest ethical standards.” Importantly, the League went a step further in describing the expanded scope of its compliance program: “NFL Compliance supports all League offices, including international, and provides guidance to NFL teams.” Presumably, this means that the League’s compliance program will broaden its reach by providing guidance on compliance matters to its 32 teams, many of which have formal risk management, safety and security programs, but few having comprehensive, enterprise-wide, effective compliance programs.
The NFL’s move to provide guidance to its teams’ compliance programs resembles in some respects the NBA’s recent directive to its member teams. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver recommended that each team take steps similar to those taken by one of its teams, the Dallas Mavericks, in building an effective compliance program – all with an eye towards each team having its own effective compliance program.
As with any effective compliance program, the first step is to conduct a risk assessment, a task that should be done at least annually. The NFL, in its description of the Director’s roles and responsibilities, specifically states that its compliance strategy shall “focus on policies relating to compliance with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, other anti-bribery laws, and relevant regulations.” This brings to mind the U.S. Department of Justice investigation last year of Major League Baseball’s recruitment of foreign players. Sports Illustrated (SI) had learned that “the U.S. Department of Justice had begun a sweeping probe into possible corruption tied to the recruitment of international players, centered on potential violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.” According to writer Jon Wertheim, SI had previously learned that “multiple alleged victims of smuggling and human trafficking operations had already given evidence to law enforcement agents or testified before a federal grand jury.”
The NFL’s new position, Director, Compliance, is a big job. While the position includes responsibility for the typical compliance activities – training, education, responding to the League’s hotline reporting tools, conducting investigations, etc. – the Director also has responsibility for compliance with all NFL-issued compliance-related policies, including the NFL Compliance Plan, the NFL Gambling Policy and the NFL Anti-Corruption Compliance Manual.
Clearly, the NFL is serious about beefing up its compliance team with the employment of a new Director. One need only look at the required education and experience: Juris Doctor, 10 years of experience in Law, Compliance, or Risk Management or a combination thereof, and five years’ experience minimum in regulatory enforcement (e.g., DOJ/SEC/State Attorney General).
Kudos to the NFL for taking the steps needed to better protect its employees, its brand, its shield and its reputation.