Tag Archives: ESPN

Mirroring Social Evolution

Donald Sterling ClippedAs I sit and think about sports today, I think about the hot topics splattering headlines in the recent weeks and months. It’s not about money or arrests or even cheating. Instead, we’re reading and discussing unacceptable bigotry in major league sports – Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s racist comments and Michael Sam becoming the first openly gay player in the NFL. While some may not agree, I think this is pretty incredible. An industry previously thought of as traditional, and keen to an unspoken “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, has now become a reflection of real social change.

A lifetime ban for Donald and jerseys flying off the shelves for Sam (despite his lack of assigned number) have both been applauded by the general public, as well as the players and organizations they support.

Furthermore, when Miami Dolphins safety Don Jones tweeted, “Horrible” shortly following the St. Louis Rams selection of Sam in the seventh round of the 2014 NFL draft, he was bombarded with disapproving criticism. His employer even issued a statement assuring the public that he would be addressed appropriately. An admirable effort from the team that was previously at the center of a bulling scandal – bringing national scrutiny to locker room culture in the NFL.

Circling back to the outrageous babbling of Donald Sterling, a valid question was raised by his wife, Shelly Sterling, in an interview with Barbara Walters: “I’m wondering if a wife of one of the owners, and there’s 30 owners, did something like that, said those racial slurs, would they oust the husband? Or would they leave the husband in?” An interesting and noteworthy perspective, but perhaps not a legitimate claim. We’ll have to wait (likely years) to see her fate while she contemplates the fate of her marriage. Donald, on the other hand, issued an apology today via a taped CNN interview with Anderson Cooper begging to be allowed this one mistake in his 35 years of ownership. Somehow I doubt that this is his one and only mistake during that time…but I could be wrong…

All in all, once the standard is now the unacceptable. While state and federal laws in the past few years (and 50 years) have helped spearhead equal rights movements worldwide, it was once projected that men’s professional sports were far from following suit. With both surprise and gratitude, I look to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, Michael Sam and the St. Louis Rams (and their PR teams, of course) for their courage and commitment to social change in sports. It may be too early to say that we are entering a new world of sports, but this is undoubtably a conscious effort by industry leaders to shift perception and mirror societal evolution.

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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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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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The Broncos’ $96M deal: aligning with a legend (to be)

With winter term of my senior year coming to a close, I’ve found my way back to the bloggosphere. Hello, old friend. This past term I took a class entitled, “Olympic Sports Marketing.” Loved it. And a lot of what we discussed in class is relatable to PR. One topic was aligning the brand with the values and goals of the Olympic Games as well as committing to a long-term investment. One thing that surprised me was the cost of becoming an official sponsor of the Games. It costs $80M to be associated with the Olympics – keep in mind, this is just the right to say you’re an official sponsor. On top of that, these select few sponsors spend a minimum of $200M to market themselves as such. This is an incredible amount of money, and although I won’t get into it, this money is spent to do good – but could also be used to resolve the global food crisis; just saying.

But back to branding. These sponsors know that they are committing to a long-term, strategic investment. To maximize their investment, they must be 100% committed to the Olympic brand. They must align themselves with Olympic values, both through their online presences and through traditional media.

With this on my mind, I couldn’t help but think about branding when I saw this morning’s front page of ESPN.com, “The Art Of The Deal – The Broncos got Peyton Manning for five years, $96 million.” At the press conference scheduled for later today, Manning will be announced as the Broncos’ new starting quarterback. The franchise now faces the task of trading its current starting quarterback, Tim Tebow. There is no doubt this is a risky investment. Peyton is 36 years old. He’s missed the 2011 season to undergo several neck surgeries. Tim Tebow is a fresh 24. Yet the Broncos are tossing Tebow aside for Manning, with a pay schedule banking on him playing five more seasons.

But perhaps it’s not about a championship ring. The Brancos are aligning itself with the Peyton Manning brand. There is no doubt that Manning is (or will become) a football legend. In fact, rumors surfaced before the deal was signed stating that Payton was offered a guaranteed position on staff with the courting rival Tennessee Titans should he live out the terms of its contract. This was never about buying a great quarterback. It’s about aligning a franchise with one of football’s greatest stars. And by star, I don’t just mean on the field. I mean, Manning’s squeaky clean, fatherly, honest, all around good image.

I’m not going to say I agree with Manning’s paycheck. My father has ingrained in me for twenty two years that athletes are grossly overpaid. What I am saying is that from a branding standpoint, this is a smart move for Denver. Peyton Manning is (or will be) a legend. Good players want to play with legends. Period.

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When the truth rains, it pours – the Miami controversy

Last week Yahoo! Sports broke the news that University of Miami football booster, Nevin Shapiro, admitted to providing thousands of benefits to at least 72 athletes from 2002 to 2010 seasons amounting to several millions of dollars. Shapiro has also recently been incarcerated for his role in a $930 million Ponzi scheme.

This is incredible, and not in a good way. Shapiro has probably single-handedly devastated the Miami football program for seasons to come. The article reads that some of his donated benefits included (but weren’t limited to) “cash, prostitutes, entertainment in his multimillion-dollar homes and yacht, paid trips to high-end restaurants and nightclubs, jewelry, bounties for on-field play (including bounties for injuring opposing players), travel and, on one occasion, an abortion.”

Furthermore, Shapiro’s co-ownership of a sports agency (existing during his time as a Miami booster) signed two first-round picks from Miami, Vince Wilfork and Jon Beason, and recruited dozens of others while Shapiro was also allegedly providing cash and benefits to players. After all this, Shapiro wasn’t about to go down alone. Yahoo! Sports reported that “Shapiro said many of those same players were also being funneled cash and benefits by his partner at Axcess, then-NFL agent and current UFL commissioner Michael Huyghue.”

Nine former Miami players and one former coach have corroborated Shapiro’s claims. And when Yahoo! Sports asked him why?

“I did it because I could,” he said. “And because nobody stepped in to stop me.”

I’ve watched ESPN’s 30 for 30 series, and I have to say one of my favorites was “Pony Excess,” the documentary of the rise and fall of SMU. It is still unknown what kind of fate Miami awaits, but several have predicted the death penalty that struck SMU in the late 1980s.

For those that don’t know, the death penalty is the harshest punishment any NCAA member school can receive and it’s only been given five time. Ever. Simply, the death penalty bans a school from competing in a specific sport for at least one year. SMU had been on probation five times in the nine seasons leading up to the death penalty and continuously lied to NCAA officials. Which goes to show that honesty really is the best policy. Although Miami is reported to be cooperating fully with the NCAA,  I don’t know if it can be saved. At a certain point the honesty policy can no longer help you.

Only time will tell what will happen to Miami’s football program. With the offseason almost over, their limbo state is likely coming to a close.

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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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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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