You can be sure that, other than the inspirational underdog story of someone beating the odds or overcoming insurmountable obstacles, nothing garners more media attention than the fall of a prominent public figure. This is not a critique, but simply a fact of life, particularly in a social media driven society.

As such, you’re likely aware New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft is facing charges of soliciting prostitution at a Florida spa. Everyone is watching to see what kind of disciplinary action the National Football League (NFL) will mete out in this high-profile case. We’re watching, too, to see if employers in other fields can learn from the unfolding events.

Case Study in How Today’s Media Culture Works

According to reports, authorities had been investigating several spas in Florida for months on suspected illegal sex trafficking. Kraft and numerous other individuals were charged because they visited these locations and paid for illicit sexual services. As of today, there is no allegation or report that Kraft or the other suspects were aware that the spas were involved in potential sex trafficking; the patrons were simply charged in connection with their visits. Of course, not all details have been made publicly available, and the investigation is still ongoing.

Unfortunately, most of the media attention has focused on Kraft and his personal involvement. This isn’t to say that he isn’t culpable for any crimes he may have committed. He certainly should be held responsible if the charges are substantiated. However, based on the facts known today, one would think more attention should be placed on the sex trafficking aspect of this story and the injustices done towards the women who were forced to work in these locations.

Some journalists are reporting on the details of the trafficking ring, but more often than not, Kraft is the lead item in any TV coverage and the subject of most headlines. Of course, he is a public figure and a person of power. His involvement is newsworthy and deserves attention. But the sex-trafficking story angle has had to take a backseat. That’s simply the way today’s media culture works.

NFL Conducts Investigation, Ponders Discipline

Kraft isn’t the only one feeling the pressure. The NFL, which has had a documented history of mishandling player discipline, particularly with regards to domestic violence and sexual assault, is feeling it too. Everyone is watching to see what the league does, how it will discipline Kraft, and whether he will be held to the same or an even higher standard (as perhaps he should be) than the players. In response to public comments related to this inquiry, the NFL issued a statement yesterday noting that the investigation is ongoing. They also reassured everyone that the NFL’s “Personal Conduct Policy applies equally to everyone in the NFL.” Time will of course tell.

Like any employer, the NFL is trying its best to reassure everyone that all persons involved in the league—players, owners, league officials, or others—are subject to the exact same rules and expectations. You can be sure that when Kraft is disciplined, players, in particular, will be looking to see whether the punishment fits the crime. If it doesn’t, there surely will be an outcry about preferential treatment.

How Your Business Should Deal with Discipline

Most businesses focus a great deal of their energy on improving employee performance and appropriately disciplining workers for policy infractions, including training and educating managers on how to get the best out of their workforces. In the process, it’s important to remember that managers, officers, and other high-level employees should be subject to the same company policies and procedures and disciplined appropriately.

Common sense, backed up by studies, indicate that employee morale, performance, and adherence to company policy greatly dwindles when upper-level employees aren’t held to the same standard. Employees take their cue from their superiors, and if managers and officers are permitted to evade discipline for certain infractions, employees will feel they can do the same or alternatively claim discriminatory or unequal treatment if they are disciplined for similar conduct. Notwithstanding the fact that managers and higher-level employees can create strict liability for the company for misdeeds conducted on the job, it’s important that they are trained not only to manage their workforce and spot and defuse issues amongst their employees but also to be aware of company policies and procedures so they can be in compliance.

What Happens When Buck Stops ‘High Up’

The buck stops somewhere, and you usually have to go “up” to find out where. The higher up a potential infraction travels, the more of a negative impact it will have on your organization, and the more likely it could warrant public attention and criticism. When it comes to the Patriots, Kraft is as high up as you can go, which is why his involvement is round-the-clock news.

NFL players are chomping at the bit to see whether the league practices what it preaches or whether discipline means one thing for owners and others for those on the lower rungs. Don’t let your employees have to wait to see whether company policies are administered equally. Hopefully, you can create a workplace culture where everyone, at all levels, trusts the policies will be administered in a fair and appropriate manner. Otherwise, you get mistrust, gossip, and speculation, which never leads to a good thing.