Once again, the sports headlines of the past week have been filled with high profile athletes finding themselves embroiled in controversy.
New York Jets' wide receiver, Braylon Edwards, was arrested earlier this week for driving while intoxicated. Following a semi-tumultuous exit from his former team, the Cleveland Browns, Edwards reportedly got into a physical altercation with a member of former Cleveland Cavalier LeBron James' entourage.
Philadelphia Eagles' quarterback Michael Vick is back in the spotlight, this time at the center of a quarterback controversy with Kevin Kolb in The City of Brotherly Love. Not really sure if you could call it a controversy, given Vick's performance on the field is head and shoulders above the vast majority of his peers at the position in the NFL right now...but, I'm just sayin'... and Gayle E. Saunders' blog last week at SkinnyPost.com does a great job summing up where he is now.
New Orleans Saints' and former University of Southern California running back, Reggie Bush, issued a statement and returned his Heisman Trophy following a host of sanctions imposed against his alma mater for his "alleged" taking money from an agent. The icing on the cake for the electrifying running back's worst week ever? He suffered a fractured fibula against the San Francisco 49ers en route to one the most dramatic Monday Night Football games in the institution's history. Editor's Note: We wish Reggie a speedy recovery and return to health as quickly as possible.
Have you ever wondered what would happen if all the athletes we see in the news for all of the wrong reasons, were there for the right reasons? It's not impossible and every now and then we see it. It's something we pride ourselves on - making sure our clients are in the headlines for the right reasons.
How different do you think a headline regarding an athlete would look if the athlete had built a solid "off the field" reputation in advance? What does it take to get there and why do so many athletes seem to pay such little attention to or invest in building and managing their reputations in a positive way?
When it comes to reputation management and crisis communications, sadly, too many athletes take this for granted and only focus on when life is good and they are on top. But people are going to mess up and athletes are people, too. It just so happens their lives are under a media microscope for all to dissect, scrutinize, etc.
In several previous posts we talked about why it is so important for athletes to invest in themselves and build their presence "off the field" before the cheering stops. It's a process they should be thinking about and planning for, before they enter the professional ranks and continue throughout so they can maximize the value of their brand when they retire. When it comes to reputation management and crisis communications, a strategic PR team's role is to help prevent the fall from grace from happening, and if and when it does, work diligently to help manage the client successfully through the process of rebuilding their reputations and help them recover.
Far too many professional athletes do not spend the time, effort, and energy toward building and protecting their off-the-field reputations (and showing up at a few red carpet premieres and some magazine photo shoots doesn't count). Granted, there are many who understand the importance of raising their profile and leveraging their 'celebrity' for the benefit of others in need. Ultimately, they understand they are setting themselves up for post-athletic career opportunities by investing in themselves while they are in the midst of their careers.
For those who have fallen from grace and recovered (e.g., Ray Lewis, Michael Phelps, Kobe Bryant, etc.), there is one thing they all have in common - they have worked hard to do all the right things, stayed focused, kept themselves out of harm's way, made good decisions, performed at a world-class level in their profession, and have been excellent with the media. Rarely is their past brought back up and this is largely due to the tremendous bank of goodwill they have built in addition to staying out of controversial situations.
Living a life of honesty and integrity is the best way to minimize your chances of finding yourself in a crisis situation; however, no one is immune. The vast majority of athletes will face a crisis of some proportion during their career or post-career. How they prepare for it is everything.
And that starts by building and maintaining a strong and positive overall profile.
Wesley Mallette is the Chief Business Development Officer and Co-Founder of Comment Communications, a California-based sports and entertainment communications firm. A 20-year veteran in the public relations field, Wesley is a crisis and reputation management expert and also specializes in media training and strategic PR planning. Through the years, he has guided clients through many challenging circumstances and controversial issues. Prior to Comment, Wesley served in top corporate communications capacities for some of the world’s leading brands in the music television, entertainment, retail and advertising/media arenas. He also serves on the Public Relations Society of America's (PRSA) Work, Life and Gender Committee. You can find him on Twitter @WesleyMallette and see more of his work on the company's blog, www.thesportscommentary.com.