Tag Archives: crisis communications

Taking Back the Past

On Monday, Nike announced it has pulled its “Boston Massacre” shirts in light of the recent Boston bombings. The shirts were originally designed to commemorate the Yankees’ series sweeps of the Red Sox in 1978 and 2006, which ended playoff hopes on both occasions. Nike was forced to make a statement after David Letterman Producer Eric Stangel’s tweet of a photo of the shirt in stores, calling out the insensitivity, went viral.

Eric Stangel Tweet

And this isn’t the first time this has happened…this year. In February, Nike discontinued the campaign promoting sponsored paralympian Oscar Pistorius that revolved around the saying, “I am the bullet in the chamber” after the athlete was charged with fatally shooting his girlfriend.

While the slogans seem unfortunate in hindsight, at the time of creation they probably seemed like pure genius. What’s done is done, and Nike not only responded in the right way, by absorbing all loses and removing messaging that could be misinterpreted, the athletic company also resolved the issue in a timely and respectful way.

Excluding the perpetrators themselves, no one could have predicted either tragedy. It’s important for brands to be aware of all interpretations of their messages no matter when the message what created, just as it is important for consumers to be understanding of true intentions.

As a graduate of the University of Nike, I must disclose that I have been, and forever will be, a Nike fan. Nike’s recent display of compassion and sensitivity only reinforces my love for the brand.

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Bounties of bounties

Today, Matt Yoder of Awful Announcing reported via Huffington Post Sports that NFL alum and ESPN analyst Cris Carter admitted to placing bounties on players during his 16-years in the league.

Carter said on today’s Mike and Mike show,

“These are part of the game. If people want to talk about football, it’s not gonna be all nice; it’s not gonna be all pretty. If you want some insight on the NFL or what’s really going on… ’cause this is the real NFL. This is not the NFL you see on Sunday…This is the truth.”

Carter explains that it was within the culture of the league to protect yourself and protect your teammates. He suggests in his Mike and Mike interview that the current players have come in to this culture and the Saints have just taken it to another level.

When it comes to summing up the irony concerning the recent coverage of the bounty scandals, Yoder could not have said it better:

“To be honest, a lot of the grandstanding and shock and horror over the fact that bounties existed in a violent sport since the story broke two months ago has been sensationalized. And now, we have former players admitting to placing bounties while the current players being punished for it are suddenly protesting their innocence. As the story has dragged on for months, it takes more headscratching turns where it’s getting harder to tell fiction from fact.”

It’s all just so ridiculous. You have players denying anything to do with a bounty system, while an NFL alum is talking about how it is and has been part of the league’s culture. This is probably as caught in a lie as you can be. Just admit you were wrong. Most of the time the truth, no matter how bad it is or how painful, will do more good when it’s admitted right away than harm. Honesty is the best policy – crisis communications 101.

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Falling Saints

Today, Huffington Post Sports reported the suspension of four key players in the New Orleans Saints three-season-long cash-for-hits bounty system. The most severe penalty is the Saints’ defensive captain Jonathan Vilma’s one year unpaid suspension. The league explained that quite a few players were involved, but “the players disciplined participated at a different and more significant level.” The other suspensions are as follows: now Green Bay Packers defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove for the first half of the season, Saints defensive end Will Smith for the first four games and now Cleveland Browns lineman Scott Fujita for the first three games.

“In assessing player discipline, I focused on players who were in leadership positions at the Saints; contributed a particularly large sum of money toward the program; specifically contributed to a bounty on an opposing player; demonstrated a clear intent to participate in a program that potentially injured opposing players; sought rewards for doing so; and/or obstructed the 2010 investigation,” Goodell said in a statement.

Vilma and Smith both issued statements denying any guilt. At this point, I think it’s past figuring out what happened or didn’t happen, or who exactly did what. It’s probably best to take responsibility and gracefully accept the self-inflicted hand that’s been dealt.

What really gave me some food for thought, or a good laugh, were some of the players’ reactions Huffington Post Sports included in the article. Former Saints running back Reggie Bush tweeted:

…Something was done, that’s why they’re suspended. Call me whatever you want, I don’t think I’m going to take advise from someone who had to give back a Heisman. But it was Indianapolis Colts linebacker Robert Mathis who offered some real insight:

When I first read this tweet my thoughts were somewhere along the lines of, “what an idiot.” But when I let it marinate, I realized that this presents a serious ethical dilemma. When the person in charge of your paycheck asks you to do something you know is wrong, what do you do? In the professional world sometimes it’s easy to just walk away, but in the sports world things can get really sticky, really fast. Mathis has a point. If you say no, you can be left to fend for yourself, forever branded as ‘difficult’ or ‘diva.’ This is a difficult choice. I’d like to think that everyone’s moral compass points to saying, “No,” but that doesn’t mean I don’t understand what’s at stake in this kind of situation. And at the end of the day, how bad can you really feel for someone with a million dollar paycheck playing a game for a living?

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Suspending World Peace?

Huffington Post Sports reported yesterday that Metta World Peace (formerly Ron Artest) was ejected from last night’s Lakers-Thunder game for a “flagrant foul 2” when he elbowed James Harden of Oklahoma City.

Late in the second quarter, World Peace raced across the court to dunk on Kevin Durant. An exciting play…and even more noteworthy due to the events following. In celebrating his dunk, World Peace backed up, facing the crowd, beating his chest. He payed no mind to Harden standing behind him after his dunk and his elbow flew right into Harden’s head. Immediately following, a fight nearly broke out among the players. While the refs were deliberating the consequences of the play, World Peace appeared to be telling one of the refs that it was an accident and he was completely unaware of Harden’s location at the time. However, if you look at the video above, he clearly bumps into Harden before swinging his elbow. And once, his elbow knocks out Harden, World Peace continues to celebrate while Harden falls to the floor.

In response, World Peace issued a statement via ESPN:

“I got real emotional and excited, and it was unfortunate that James had to get hit with the unintentional elbow. I hope he’s OK. Oklahoma, they’re playing for a championship this year. I apologize to the Thunder and James Harden. It was just unfortunate.”

Later ESPN noted he tweeted:

“I just watched the replay again….. Oooo.. My celebration of the dunk really was too much… Didn’t even see James ….. Omg… Looks bad.”

Metta World Peace could be facing a lengthy suspension; the ball is in NBA Commissioner David Stern’s court. Pun intended.

Suspension or not, World Peace is facing some serious scrutiny. The former notoriously aggressive player attempted to transform his image when he changed his name to Metta World Peace before the current season. This incident has seemed to not only amplify the irony of his actions and his name, but also brand him as a lier and a dirty player. It’s going to take a lot more than a statement or a tweet like those (or a name change) to get World Peace back on track in the public eye.

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Pleading Saints

In a press conference Tuesday, March 27, New Orleans Saints (former?) coach Sean Payton went on the record apologizing for the bounty program that had been going on under his supervision. When I saw this last week, I was ready to applaud Payton and the Saints organization for their grace in accepting some of the harshest NFL sanctions in history. Not pushing blame on others can be hard to resist in a time of crisis.

But a three days later, Payton decided to appeal his one-year suspension.

This is just one of the several appeals filed in response to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s laundry list of punishments. General manager Mickey Loomis is appealing his eight-game suspension, the Saints are appealing its $500,000 fine and the loss of its second-round draft picks for 2012 and 2013 and assistant coach Joe Vitt is appealing his sex-game suspension.

A Huffington Post article detailing the scandal and appeals reports,

The commissioner has said since the unprecedented penalties were announced that the Saints’ coach would likely be allowed to continue working as his appeal was resolved. However, he added that the challenge would be expedited, indicating that Payton would not likely be able to add on much work time should his appeal be upheld.

Payton’s decision to appeal has revealed a clear discrepancy between his behavior at the March 27th press conference and his appeal announcement. Dragging all those ‘sincere’ apologies into question. He’s clearly not as sorry as he implied. Although taking responsibility is honorable, Payton should have made sure his actions after the press conference fell in line with his statements. In crisis communications, consistency is key. The only consistency here is the number of appeals and the number of sanctions. Lesson learned? Only say sorry if you mean it.

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Punishing Saints

Today, ESPN reported NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s series of punishments to affect the New Orleans Saints in regard to recent discoveries of its bounty system in the upcoming months and years. According to the league via ESPN, the Saints adopted a culture that encouraged players to injure competitors for a price ($1,500 for “knockouts” and $1,000 for “cart-offs”). Furthermore, head coach Sean Payton ignored instructions from the NFL and Saints ownership to make sure bounties weren’t being paid. The NFL also attacked Payton for choosing to “falsely deny that the program existed,” and for trying to “encourage the false denials by assistants.”

Below is the laundry list of punishments.

  • Suspension of head coach Sean Payton for one year without pay
  • Indefinite banning of former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams
  • Banning of general manager Mickey Loomis for the first eight regular-season games next season
  • Banning of assistant coach Joe Vitt for the first six regular-season games next season
  • $500,000 fine for the franchise
  • Loss of second-round draft pick for 2012 and 2013

The league is still reviewing the case with the NFL Player’s Association (NFLPA); punishments for specific players is yet to be determined.

Payton is the first head coach to ever be suspended and Loomis is believed to be the first general manager to be suspended. This is a long list of punishments. Probably considered the harshest set of punishments for one franchise to face in history. But I don’t think it’s harsh enough. The thing that bothers me most is that Sean Payton, who oversaw this bounty system as head coach, is only suspended for one year without pay. Yes, that’s a big deal – it’s never been done before – but on his current salary, I think he’ll survive. He allegedly oversaw, and perhaps took part in the encouragement of players hurting competing players for rewards, completely disregarding the integrity of football as a sport. These players are being paid to physically hurt competitors, attempting to ruin careers, hindering their livelihood. In my book, Payton and all leadership involved in the encouragement (and cover-up) of the bounty system should be banned from the sport. Period.

This may seem too harsh to some, but in a time when sports are so commonly associated with corruption, it is necessary for the league to take a step toward eliminating those who take part in the vary actions that are tarnishing the name of football.

With that said, I have to admit the franchise’s apologetic statement did make me rethink the magnitude of my aforementioned thoughts on punishment…for a second. In a statement in response to the impending penalties, the Saints said,

“To our fans, the NFL and the rest of our league, we offer our sincere apology and take full responsibility for these serious violations. It has always been the goal of the New Orleans Saints to create a model franchise and to impact our league in a positive manner. There is no place for bounties in our league and we reiterate our pledge that this will never happen again.”

While it is usually crucial to present a united front when it comes to crisis communications (really, all communications), at this point the most the Saints can do is just admit wrongdoing within the organization and gracefully accept the consequences. Now, the Saints just need to stick to its promise.

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PAC-12 media play

Yesterday afternoon marked the first completed PAC-12 media day. Now, more than ever, there is little to differentiate pro and college football. The biggest of controversies discussed was the investigation of University of Oregon’s dealings with a Houston-based recruiting service owner, Willie Lyles.

I read an article this morning in the San Francisco Chronicle (distributed by the Associated Press) about the controversy and Oregon Coach Chip Kelly’s comments, or lack there of, during the PAC-12 media day. To the multitude of questions from the media about the NCAA investigation, Chip Kelly responded, “As head coach of this football program, we’re held accountable for everything we do… I’d love to talk about it. There are a lot of answers I’d love to make sure we can get out there.”

The article also reads that in a statement sent out to program supporters by email last Friday, Oregon Athletic Director Rob Mullens said the Ducks have retained a law firm to assess the $25,000 payment to Lyles for an apparently outdated scouting report last year.

In an ESPN recap of the media day, Ted Miller interviewed Bruce Feldman about the current happenings of the PAC-12. In the interview, Feldman makes a comment about Oregon delaying their response to the accusations to defuse the situation as much as possible. Is this an effective tactic? Yes. Unlike Tennessee, Oregon is not punishing themselves prematurely, but as far as they know, they’ve done nothing wrong (That’s their story and their sticking to it!). The fact that Oregon has retained a law firm to independently examine their payment to Lyles shows that the program is proactively investigating the situation.

You can’t comment on something if you don’t know happened for sure, and I commend Chip Kelly for not trying to.

PS. Sorry if this post is bias in your eyes…ALL HAIL CHIP!

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Volunteers volunteer probation

Last week, the University of Tennessee announced a two year self-imposed probation for the schools athletic department. This was in response to the NCAA’s Notice of Allegations on May 20.

“The University has taken what it believes are meaningful and appropriate steps to address the problems identified in this case,” the response reads, “including declaring student-athletes ineligible, implementing enhancements to the compliance program, and self-imposing penalties upon the particular coaching staff members and sports programs that were designed to punish the head coach, deter similar conduct in the future, and offset any advantages that the programs may have gained.”

Yesterday, it was reported that Lane Kiffin, former head coach for the Volunteers and current coach of the USC Trojans, is now facing charges for “failing to promote an atmosphere of compliance within the program and failing to monitor the activities regarding compliance of several of his assistants.”

Tennessee is still awaiting ruling on the twelve major infractions.

My question is, do self-inflicted punishments work? They can, if executed properly. Here are a few dos and don’ts when it comes to the kind of crisis communications colleges and universities have become so familiar with lately.

  1. Speed of response – Tennessee was quick to take responsibility for violations. That is not always the case. A quick response shows that you are paying attentions and eager to fix problems within your organization.
  2. Admitting guilt –  The university went above and beyond expectations here. They are not only willing to accept charges for violations, but also willing to punish themselves for their own mistakes. In doing this, I would think it is a good possibility that the NCAA may reduce their infractions to applaud UT for their voluntary probation. But even if they don’t, they still look good.
  3. Placing blame – Don’t do it. Tennessee didn’t once complain that violations were committed under the supervision of a now Trojan and by others that have now left the program. This could have been rewarded by the NCAA’s charge of Kiffin individually, separate from the school. Charges against Kiffin are not likely to disappear anytime soon. He is expected to be sidelined for several games at his new USC home (an almost insignificant problem for USC compared to other sanctions they have faced recently).
  4. University culture – This incident shows that there was little control and supervision going on in the athletic programs. Because of Tennessee’s actions regarding my previous three points, it has given the impression that there are great changes going on in this department.

Schools can no longer rely on their coaches to enforce and educate their staff on NCAA rules. Coaches are put under immense pressure to perform and attract the best players in the country. But every school’s athletic department needs to have a crisis plan. And whether Tennessee had one prepped or not, it performed beautifully.

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Harris at the edge of a Cliff

I just started interning for the second summer at a small PR firm in San Francisco, so forgive me for abandoning my blog for a week. Now that’s out of the way, lets get down to the nitty gritty that is college football. I read an article when I got home today; it was ESPN‘s report of some heartbreaking news.

Wednesday, Oregon football coach Chip Kelly released a statement announcing the indefinite suspension of cornerback Cliff Harris. All because this kid (and I’m allowed to say kid because I’m older than he is) can’t keep it under 100 mph. The 20 year old was cited Sunday morning after police clocked the player going 118 mph with a suspended license in a rental car.

There are so many things wrong with that last sentence.

  1. Suspended License – Why did he have a suspended license? What did he do originally to get it taken away?
  2. 118 mph – Seriously? The main highway going through Eugene has a 55 mph speed limit.
  3. Rental Car – This could be a lie, but I thought you needed to be 25 to rent a car. Never mind the fact that you need a license (this I know to be true).

The car was said to be rented to a university employee, which just opens a whole different can of worms that I don’t want to even think about.

I can’t help but think this is the straw that broke the camel’s back. The same day, ESPNU posted a podcast discussing the state of college football after a rather turbulent offseason. Amongst the talk, interviewee Pat Forde suggests that some of the controversies going on in college football today have probably been going on for a long time and are just now being brought to light. Host Ivan Maisel, in response to Forde’s comment, brings up the fact that information is more readily accessible than it has been in the past due to the emergence of social media, which could explain the exploding of controversies this year.

But is this an excuse? Social media can make you, and it can certainly break you. First impressions are no longer made over the phone or face-to-face, but rather via Facebook “stalking.” I will never forget my first day of J452: Strategic Public Relations Communications when my professor started off our first class with a slideshow, one slide per student. She revealed what anyone and everyone (including future employers) could find about each of us on the web within ten minutes. Some weren’t so bad, some were pretty bad and some were worse. Yes, it’s harder the shield ourselves from the world because everything we do is online, kept forever in the intangible nothingness of the Internet. But that’s no justification. Maybe if we were older, using our first computer and just started to learn about that thing that can find all the answers (Google). But we’re not, and by “we” I mean me and all those athletes making mistakes. I got my third laptop at eighteen. I’m not sure I can remember what I did with my free time before Myspace and Facebook came along. The irony of all these social media-induced scandals is, they’re all coming from those who’ve grown up in the digital age. One would think we’d know how to use social media the way it’s meant to be used. Psych.

Chip Kelly said something in his statement that really stuck with me.

Cliff’s future clearly is in Cliff’s hands. Earning an opportunity to represent the University of Oregon and this football program certainly rests far beyond a player’s ability on the field of play. Our behavior out of the spotlight often is more important and will be held to a higher standard. Until Cliff is able to conform to the same standards all of us must comply with, his status will remain unchanged.

For some reason, these words really reinforced my faith in the Ducks. Perhaps it is the fact that this team has a leader that truly understands the meaning of a team and the environment we live in today, the digital age. These players are given more than they probably ever dreamed. They are the heroes of a small town that worships one thing: the duck. With great power comes great responsibility. But amid all the praising, winning and inflating egos, Kelly is still able to understand that today, the spotlight is never out; get used to it; adapt.

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The lies that lead to a slow and painful demise

Breaking college football news: Quarterback Terrelle Pryor won’t return to Ohio State for his senior season. I watched a video posted on ESPN today featuring ESPN College Football Insider Joe Schad’s comments on the situation. He said he wasn’t surprised and there has been talk that Terrelle Pryor has been blamed by teammates for the late departure of coach Jim Tressel.

This got me thinking about how one bad decision can change everything. Although Pryor made a few bad decisions, not just one, it goes to show that lying never gets you anywhere. The scandal at Ohio State lead to Tressel’s painfully long demise. But is Pryor responsible for that? When it comes down to it, the athlete follows the advice of a coach, not the other way around. Blame for the famed coach’s resignation should not be placed on Pryor but on Tressel himself.

But none of that even matters because once you lie, and the truth comes out, no one will ever trust you as a teammate or anything else. Things are not looking up for Ohio State or Terrelle Pryor and the only thing I can say to that is, thank goodness he didn’t come to Oregon.

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