White Paper available

December 11, 2012

We have posted a white paper on Triond called “Valuing Diversity” that cites some admirable examples of diversity in sports.  You can access this content at http://sportales.com/football/valuing-diversity/


Pink Ribbon, Blue Ribbon

December 5, 2012

Sports journalist Jemele Hill’s suggestion that next fall, NFL players wear both pink and blue ribbons — pink for breast cancer awareness and blue for domestic violence awareness, both observed in October — follows the tragic murder-suicide this past weekend of Kansas City Chiefs’ player Jovan Belcher and his girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins.  The tragedy focuses attention again on the sports world and domestic violence.

pink-ribbon-clip-art-120x160Hill, in a December 4, 2012, article on espnW.com (“End the silence about domestic violence”), cites former NFL quarterback Don McPherson’s admonition that it’s “easier” for the NFL to sport pink ribbons than wear blue ribbons that signify it’s teaming up with a feminist organization.  McPherson feels that would “chip away at the image that is a direct link to their fans” — an image that sometimes reflects a “twisted masculinity” according to Hill.  If this is the case, the NFL needs some serious public relations image counseling.  Many NFL fans are women.  After this weekend, the NFL needs more than pink ribbons to show it relates to its growing female fan base.

I just taught a class on media ethics in which I showed a graphic photo of an Ohio domestic violence victim named Becky Spellman.  The  photo showed Spellman in the hospital following an acid attack to her face perpetrated by her estranged husband.  I asked my class if the newspaper should have used such a disturbing photo.  The majority said they supported its decision to run the photo because it showed the reality of domestic violence.

Jovan Belcher brought that reality to the public — and the NFL –again last weekend when he shot his girlfriend and mother of his three-month old daughter before killing himself at Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium.

Hill wrote, “The moment of silence for domestic violence victims at Arrowhead Stadium was sadly fitting, because when it comes to acknowledging violence against women, the sports world is often mute.”

The sports world may not be speaking but, hopefully it’s listening.  Hey, NFL:  Wear pink — and blue.


November 16, 2012

I caught just a few minutes of ESPN’s recent 30/30 segment about professional athletes’ financial troubles, but checked out a number of articles commenting on it.  Obviously, it’s difficult to sympathize with people who blow through millions of dollars on things like hugh mansions with not one but two bowling alleys; luxury car fleets; well-paid entourages of 40; and just about every other over-the-top “accessory” of the rich and famous you can think of.

But — and this is not so much in defense of these now-broke-and-bankrupt athletes — there is another side to the issue and that’s that of the unscrupulous agent or advisor.  They are a big part of the problem as well.

These athletes have so many “hangers-on” — including family members and friends who seem to feel entitled to share in the athlete’s financial sucess.  But hangers-on can also include the professionals hired to protect the athlete’s image and marketability — the PR practitioners.

I saw them all the time when I was working in the music industry:  Agents who “used” their clients more than represented them and became yes men and women rather than standing up and saying no when it was not what the client wanted to hear, but was in their best interest.  Professionally,, we are failing our clients when we choose to become just another member of an entourage looking for self-enrichment.  Further, some agents want to become celebrities themselves (“talking heads” and mega-agents) and use their clients to achieve that status.

Charles Barkley

I remember reading in one of Charles Barkley’s books how he finally had to learn to say no to people always asking for money and “stuff.”  In fact, one of my current PR students at Kent has a son in the NFL, and she has told me just how difficult the issue has become in her own family.  Because her son finally had to tell some relatives that, while he will continue to help them from time to time he can no longer be their primary income-source, those family members are now calling her to complain.  She said it has caused a very deep division in her family.  It’s amazing that people would expect him to take care of them, and even more amazing that rather than be thankful for the help he’s already provided, they have turned on him because he has to stop to protect his own financial health and future.

PR agents can’t really do anything about the family issues — other than offer some counsel.  But they do owe their athlete/clients ethical representation and professional practice in not adding to the greedy money-grabbing going on out there in the “agents-gone-wild” world.

And in this corner … (A media battle for the ages)

May 2, 2008

Tyson and Holyfield can’t hold a candle to these guys.  All earlobes remained intact, but the fur was definitely flying as deadspin.com editor and writer Will Leitch squared off against author/journalist Buzz Bissinger on HBO’s “Costas Now.”

In the sport blogs v. mainstream media battle that ensued, Bissinger did not conceal his contempt for bloggers, like Leitch, and the Internet.  Simply put, Bissinger accused bloggers of dumbing down our society.

The author of “Friday Night Lights,” Bissinger threw all bloggers into the same pot of vulgar, profane, offensive, unethical, uncredentialed, dishonest, cruel, journalist-wannabes who, by the way, can’t write.  (Did I miss anything?) 

There are a few problems with that assessment.

First, I don’t think most bloggers are trying to pass themselves off as professional journalists.  They are simply finding their voice and making themselves heard.  The Internet enables them to do that, and more power to them.  (Note to Professor Sledzik:  I really did learn something from reading “The Cluetrain Manifesto.“)

Second, deadspin.com is what it is, which, to me anyway, is a gossipy, raunchier (especially because of the unfiltered comments), online sport version of the National Enquirer.  Deadspin’s banner describes itself:  “Sport News Without Access, Favor, Or Discretion.”  It seems that Deadspin does enjoy humiliating celebrities, just as it seems the Enquirer does.  The point is, writing didn’t have to go online to become unprofessional or unethical.  

Bloggers are simply conversationalists. (I read that somewhere. I am far too new at this to come up with anything original.)  They enter the public arena with their opinions, however crass and grammatically incorrect.  But, hey, this is a democratic society, isn’t it?  Don’t we want all citizens to find their voices and get engaged in the debate, whatever the debate may be?  How does this harm journalists?  Maybe because they can no longer control the message?  (Again, thank you Cluetrain authors.)

I understand Bissinger wants to defend his profession against those who fail to maintain its integrity.  I feel the same way about public relations.  Both professions are plagued by people practicing without ethics, skill, professionalism or general regard for the truth.  Unfortunately for both journalism and public relations, you don’t need a license to drive, so to speak.  So it is difficult to enforce journalistic and PR codes of ethics.

But I have to agree with Huffington Post writer, Sarah Schorno, who wrote in a post entitled, “Bob Costas Just Doesn’t Get It,” that we should consider this an evolution of the media:  “Consider it media Darwinism.  The best writers will survive …”  Not everyone is a good writer, but most readers can recognize good writing.  

So, Mr. Bissinger, perhaps you can find some consolation in this:  All journalists can be bloggers, but not all bloggers can be journalists.        





Clemens Calamity and Bad PR

April 29, 2008

ESPN’s Skip Bayless calls it the biggest fall from grace in sports history. There’s no denying Roger Clemens’ reputation is in freefall following reports of illegal steroid use and now an alleged affair with a country singer. As I’ve listened to sports pundit after pundit voice dismay over this continuing saga, I can’t help but wonder if Clemens has had any good counsel throughout these last months.

Obviously, we don’t know who’s lying.  But to believe Clemens, you have to not believe practically everyone else. So for the sake of argument, let’s say he has been less than truthful.

I realize there are a lot of people practicing public relations out there who do not have the background or formal education to truly understand what professional public relations is all about. For instance, it is not about hedging the truth and being evasive, so my only option left is to believe Clemens hasn’t had the benefit of good PR counsel.

If he has been less than open about steroids and the alleged affair with country music singer, Mindy McCready, he has already done more damage to himself than the press could. There are ramifications when the truth is not so pretty, but it would have been better than what Clemens is facing now.

The truth hurts? Maybe. But there’s a whole lot of hurt out there now for not just Clemens, but some innocent people as well, such as his family. Any PR practitioner purporting to help Clemens — or anyone else in such a situation — would be wise to heed the Arthur W. Page Society’s seven principles of PR management with particular emphasis on the first: “Tell the truth.”

Goodell to NFL Players: Stuff It!

April 24, 2008

Yesterday, the big NFL news was former New England Patriots staffer, Matt Walsh, getting legal and financial indemnity to speak with the Commissioner about Spygate.  Today, we’re back to the really important stuff:  Hair.

This morning on ESPN’s “First Take,” commentators Skip Bayless and Jamelle Hill discussed the issue.  Hill voiced her safety concerns, while Bayless said it was more of an image issue, comparing the athletes to gladiators.  Per my earlier post, I still think it should be framed as a safety issue.   You can see at right how dangerous being tackled by the hair could be for a player like Steeler Troy Polamalu.   

Regardless, Commissioner Goodell has now weighed in on the locks debate.   Meeting yesterday with the NFL Players Advisory Committee, Goodell said the NFL proposes that players tuck their long hair into their helmets during games. 

However, an interesting concern was raised during the meeting.  In the Goodell article linked to above, writer Chris Mortensen said there are concerns about so much hair compromising the protective features of helmets.  Goodell said the NFL will consult with helmet manufacturer, Riddell.  

According to the Mortensen article, the proposed policy would affect 62 players.   Long hair is defined as reaching below the player’s nametag on the back of the jersey.  Currently, hair past the helmet is considered part of the uniform and can be legally grabbed for take-down.  Scary.  I hope it doesn’t take a serious injury for the NFL to examine this as a safety issue.

The players group has not yet accepted the commissioner’s proposal.  The bottom line:  While teams will not ask their long-locked gladiators to cut their hair, players may have to stuff it to play.   


Are Agents Ruining Sports?

April 24, 2008

Charles Barkley often bemoans the state of professionalism and declining skill-level in the NBA today.  He blames the multi-million dollar contracts offered to teenagers coming out of high school without ever playing a minute of ball at the professional level — and until recently without ever playing at the college level.  The hunger to prove yourself gets satisfied pretty quickly with $42.3 million.

There are also the hungry agents promising each of these young celebrities-in-waiting that they, too, can be a star.  All of the money and notoriety can certainly turn anyone’s head and skew priorities. 

But, what about the pride and satisfaction of striving to be the best in the sport that’s paying them millions to participate?  Can they do it all?  Talk on the endorsed-T-Mobile while drinking endorsed-Gatorade while viewing the next script while taking singing lessons while …. hey, can you throw me the ball?   

With these agents vying for potential superstar athlete/clients while they are still in high school, are sports — and even these kids — being well-served?  It seems professional sports are becoming just another road to Hollywood and away from the sport or an education or even reality.  Some agents, who probably dream dollar signs, market their athlete/clients with sports as an afterthought.  That leaves the fans, spending hard-earned dollars to attend games (or should we call them events?) short-changed and these young athletes rich – for a while – and still hungry for a life-long celebrity lifestyle that is hard to maintain.

In the April 14, 2008, issue of Sports Illustrated, Selena Roberts wrote about athletes wanting the celebrity status to last forever.  Roberts quoted an NBA player who said he wanted to ensure a lifestyle that means “never going to baggage claim again.”  And many believe the way to ensure that is to head straight for Hollywood.  The problem for sports — and sports fans — is that on their way, they often neglect to nurture the skills that brought them to the celebrity dance in the first place.

Unlike Michael Jordan who, as Roberts pointed out, gained his fame “title by title,” many young superstars sign with agents who promise immediate Hollywood-style fame.  You can dunk?  Well, then you can act-sing-accept-your-Oscar while still leading your team to the championship.  Roberts said the William Morris Agency, one of the largest entertainment agencies in the world,  considers players to be entertainers first and athletes second.

Look, I agree with the U. S. Army.  Be all that you can be.  So I am not saying athletes shouldn’t strive for whatever they can get, aim for the stars, have it all.  But, I also agree with Charles Barkley.  Watch some classic NBA games from the last couple of decades.  Jordan, Barkley, Magic and Bird all strove to be the best, taking pride in the game and their skills.  And they are all still successful, smartly leveraging their fame and fortune into post-NBA achievements. 

They’re all also admired and remembered for their athletic skills.  All can probably choose to go Hollywood whenever they want, but more importantly, these guys went Springfield, as in Springfield, Massachusetts, the home of the Basketball Hall of Fame.  I think they would have made it there without the help of a super-agent.     


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