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.     


I See Your Long Hair Flying When You Run …

April 8, 2008

OK, I know Bob Seger didn’t have Joshua Cribbs or Troy Polamalu in mind when he wrote those lyrics for “You’ll Accomp’ny Me.” But watching the Browns’ punt returner (Cribbs) and the Steelers’ safety (Polamalu) really brings those words to life.

Last week at the NFL owners’ meetings in Palm Springs, Florida, the assembled brass briefly considered quashing that image to improve the league’s overall image. As they considered such ethical issues as illegal taping and whistleblower provisions to protect anyone reporting illegal activity in the NFL, they discussed another weighty issue: hair. That’s right. Taking a page from the NBA’s handbook, the NFL now wants to ramp up its own image.

Never mind dogfighting, gambling, domestic abuse, and illegal drugs — and, granted, Commissioner Goodell has taken a hard stance against wayward players. But hair? Maybe it bothers me just because it is being framed as an image issue and not a safety concern.

That’s where good public relations comes in. Know how to frame your issue to get the most support. I cringe every time I think of one of my favorite players, Cribbs, getting yanked down by his hair by some mean, nasty Steeler (sorry, Bill). I think hair being used as a take-down tool is a big safety concern. So why isn’t it framed like that rather than an image issue?

I personally think Cribbs and Polamalu look kind of cute with all that hair. Yep, I said it. Even a mean, nasty Steeler can look cute (kinda). But I am concerned for their safety and well-being. Herm Edwards, the Chief’s head coach, was at the forefront of this long-hair-image-issue last week. Edwards said he was raised in a military home where rules and image were important. I have no problem with that.

But frame this issue for what it should be — a safety concern. I think the NFL, who delayed action on the issue until meeting with the players’ union later this year, would get more support for that position.

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