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NFL adds two political pros to PR, lobbying teams

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After a series of public relations setbacks over the past two years, the National Football League (NFL) has hired two veteran Washington PR professionals on Tuesday to help stanch the bleeding.

Former White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart joins the league as Executive Vice-President of Communications. Senior Vice-President of Government Affairs Cynthia Hogan received a promotion to Executive Vice-President of Public Policy and Government Affairs.

Despite the NFL’s popularity among fans and advertisers, Lockhart joins the NFL at a time when its image has taken a beating. The league’s handling of multiple instances of domestic violence and protocol over concussions has brightened the spotlight on Commissioner Roger Goodell and the 32 NFL teams. A movie starring Will Smith (“Concussion”) has not helped.

Lockhart is no stranger to crisis communications and re-branding. He assumed the role of President Bill Clinton’s Press Secretary in 1998 as the House of Representatives was deciding whether to impeach the President.

Lockhart’s experience includes being deeply involved in news gathering and production working for ABC, CNN and SKY News. Since his government days, Lockhart has advised clients ranging from private sector corporations, individuals to campaigns and elected individuals.

He leaves the company he co-founded, The Glover Park Group in Washington.

Hogan also brings White House experience to her new role. She was Deputy Assistant to President Barack Obama and Counsel to Vice-President Joe Biden.

Hogan handled complex issues and led the effort to confirm Sonia Sotomayor to the United States Supreme Court. Before joining the executive branch, she held senior leadership positons within the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee.

Congress is expected to intensify its scrutiny over the NFL on player safety and other issues. The league has the only full-time lobbying operation, run by Hogan, in professional sports. She will be kept busy.

Some early reactions to the hires were not surprising. NBC Sports described the hires as a way to put “a level of bureaucracy between Goodell and any unpopular decisions.” Both will report to NFL Chief Operating Officer Tod Leiweke.

With the conference championships coming up this weekend and Super Bowl 50 is in two weeks. That means more media will be around to ask more questions on topics other than Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady.

Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at Bob@ramos-sparks.com.

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