Tag Archives: NFL

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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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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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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How not to tweet…for athletes

Amidst browsing, I stumbled upon a little gem posted by Socialite Life titled, “10 Athletes To Follow On Twitter.” The post from Sunday explains the good, the bad and the ugly, all of which are entertaining. Selections are anywhere from basketball and football superstars to “snarky” skateboarders. This got me thinking…we could all probably learn how not to tweet by examining a few micro-blogging faux pas.

Here I’ve put together three simple rules for athletes on Twitter:

1. Don’t disrespect your followers. Number six on the list is Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver, Chad Ochocinco (@ochocinco). The Socialite Life post notes one of his tweets, “In the gym for what I call Upper Body Mondays,most of you are on lunch I assume right?” These are your fans; don’t insult them. Life in the NFL doesn’t last forever; if you’re smart, you will value your fans because they’ll sustain you after the NFL.

2. Grammar counts. Many athletes already deal with a standing stereotype of being stupid. Instead of feeding the fire, prove them wrong. At the risk of sounding like a journalism geek, good grammar is sexy. A tweet from USA Tennis player, Andy Roddick (@andyroddick) reads, “Not to people who say ” direct message me. I have a great business opportunity for you”. Don’t tweet me that. :)”  I’m pretty sure the tennis hottie (now, not so much) meant to say, “Note” instead of “Not.” According to the article, Tennessee Titans quarterback, Vince Young (@vinceyoung10) tweeted, “Anyone once to play golf?” Not only that, he corrected himself, tweeting, “Wants my bad.” Anyone wants to play golf? Nice try, but no. Bad grammar makes people look stupid. Even though Twitter is a place for speedy updates, take the time to read it over.

3. Too weird is too much. A little weird is funny. A lot weird makes people question. Athletes are brands (and so is everyone else for that matter). To maintain your brand, you must not feed negative ideas of who you are. When a photo of Olympic gold medalist, Michael Phelps (@PhelpsTheFish) smoking out of a bong infiltrated the media in 2009, he was doubted more than anything as a role model. After such a public incident shaking his brand to its core, rebuilding his image should be a priority for the years following. Instead, the swimmer posts tweets like “I think I saw a ghost last night… Or it was one realistic dream…kinda of cool but weird…” Socialite Life goes so far as to speculate that Phelps was under some kind of influence while tweeting. If you’re already treading deep waters, you can drown your career in questionable tweets; no pun intended.

The moral of the post? Be careful what you tweet. Learn from these guys what not to do whether you’re an athlete or not, famous or not; everyone has a brand to protect.

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