Tag Archives: sports

Jason Collins: “The Announcement Should be Mine to Make, Not TMZ’s”

Today, history was made. Jason Collins dominated headlines and raked in Twitter followers by becoming the first openly gay active athlete. He opened up to the world this morning as Sports Illustrated‘s May 6 issue hit newsstands, bearing his fearless smile on the cover.

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“I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay,” Collins’ confessional byline begins, “I didn’t set out to be the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport. But since I am, I’m happy to start the conversation. I wish I wasn’t the kid in the classroom raising his hand and saying, “I’m different.” If I had my way, someone else would have already done this. Nobody has, which is why I’m raising my hand.”

This is a huge moment in sports, politics and American culture. In his debut piece, the seven-foot center and free agent notes that while he’s been struggling with the decision for nearly two years, it was the recent Boston Marathon bombing that made him realize that he shouldn’t wait for the circumstances to be perfect.

My initial reaction to the news was an overwhelming sense of joy. I celebrate Collins’ courage to be himself in a situation that doesn’t make it easy. People face this dilemma every day, and the struggles that Collins experienced (and will likely continue to experience) every day, but not everyone is a public figure. One of my favorite lines Collins wrote reads, “The announcement should be mine to make, not TMZ’s.”

In public relations, so much of what we do is finding ways to control the message. Making sure that the right audience sees and hears the right message. I know it may sound terrible, but when I saw a free agent announce his sexual orientation in an exclusive cover of Sports Illustrated, I thought…this is strategic PR. But Collins’ article put my accusations to rest. He is so unmistakably honest. It is easy to feel compassionate towards someone who bares everything, knowing that by doing so, he is welcoming criticism. By the end, I had forgotten all the motives I thought lay behind the swarm of publicity and felt closer to a man I never even considered cheering for.

…and that’s the beauty of PR and branding – if it’s good, you think the message was your own idea!

With that, I’ll leave you with an insightful and supportive tweet from the one and only Fortune Felmster, comedian best known for her regular appearances on Chelsea Lately:

FortuneTweetforCollins

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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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Good clean karma? – The Bobby Petrino crash

Last week, the Associated Press reported (via Huffington Post Sports) University of Arkansas head football coach Bobby Petrino, who was recently released from the hospital after a severe motorcycle accident, had been in the company of a 25 year-old women. Oh, did I mention Petrino is 51 and married? After withholding this information from school officials, Petrino is now on paid leave pending a review by Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long.

The actions of a head coach, or any staff member for that matter, reflect on the the university brand. What was once thought to be a tragedy – a near-devastating crash, is now a clear demonstration of karma. But that’s besides the point. The real issue is not only was Petrino engaged in less-than-wholesome activity, he lied to Arkansas about it. The key to branding is never lie – you will always get caught. This isn’t to say a married, 51 year-old football coach with a 25 year-old on the back of his motorcycle would not have been scandalous if Petrino hadn’t kept that secret to himself. But, it wouldn’t have been such a surprise to his bosses. And in crisis communications, surprises are never a good thing. Moral of the story? Never lie, cheat or steal. But if you do, tell the truth about it sooner rather than later.

PS. In this post, withholding information is the same as lying.

UPDATE
Huffington Post Sports reported today that Petrino was fired for ‘misleading’ the University of Arkansas regarding his relationship with his mistress. Great move by Long.

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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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Hoodies for justice

Today, Huffington Post Sports reported Dwayne Wade and LeBron James posted pictures to Facebook and/or Twitter showing them with a hooded sweatshirt pulled over their heads. LeBron’s picture showed Miami Heat teammates participating in the act of protest. Both posts were in response to the death of a local teenager shot and killed by a neighborhood crime-watch volunteer in Sanford, Fla. late February. Shooter George Zimmerman said he shot the unarmed  African American, Trayvon Martin, out of self-defense and has not been arrested.

I am not a big Heat fan…AT ALL, but was struck by this team’s efforts to use their respective platforms to bring awareness to the injustice of Martin’s death. In the NBA, players are bought and sold constantly. Players rarely end up in the community they grew up, nor do they stay for long periods of time. Thus, players don’t often have deep connections to the communities they play in. This is natural. I don’t know if this was prompted by the Miami Heat executives, but I like it regardless. Wade, James and their teammates are using their massive social media reach to bring awareness to an injustice in their community, while also showing the Florida community that they care about what’s going on there. This is community relations at its finest. This is just good PR.

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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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