Throughout the years, we have witnessed numerous high profile athletes, coaches and spokespersons inevitably stick their foot in “it” by making the decision to “tell it like it is,” “speak their mind,” or “get it off their chest,” in front of the media.
Given one of the cornerstones of our business is media training
, we obviously do not advise our clients to just “let it rip” while the cameras are rolling. And as we mentioned in Melinda Travis’ post on the subject (Media Training Defined – What It Is and What It Isn’t
), comprehensive media training is far more than learning just the do’s and don’ts of the interview process. It is understanding the role the athlete/coach/spokesperson plays in the process and their ability to influence how their brand is perceived. One of the important ways to influence that perception is to effectively manage the message
Without fail, countless numbers of athletes and coaches learn this important lesson the hard way. Ironically, three of the NFL’s most prolific (and historically outspoken) wide receivers who have learned this lesson previously, squared off against each other in week 1 when the New England Patriots (featuring Randy Moss) hosted the Cincinnati Bengals and their reality show duo of Terrell Owens (T.O.) and Chad Ochocinco.
The instances where T.O., Ocho and Moss have voiced their “not so” humble opinions in the past are well documented. However, over the past few years, we have seen the professional maturation of Moss, the evolution of Ocho’s media brand, and the feudal attempts by T.O. to show the world a different side of him. Which is why although Moss’ Patriots emerged victorious with a 38-24 victory, his comments about not believing he would be a Patriot next year due to business reasons, etc., during his post-game press conference were anything but, and left many feeling confused.
So what did he say?
In short, Moss made it clear during his post-game press conference that he did not see himself returning to the New England Patriots next year. He was forthright about the fact he wants to remain part of the Pats’ organization, but from a business standpoint, did not see it happening. Two days later, ESPN’s Hannah Storm conducted a great interview with Moss. She asked him about each element of his controversial statement and Moss addressed them. He didn’t shy away from any of the questions and the dialogue between the two of them spoke volumes to the professionalism of both. (Click here for the entire interview
Here is my breakdown of what he did right, where he can improve, and lessons learned.
THE REMARKS AND THE RECOVERY – WHAT HE DID RIGHT
Although Moss’ comments did serve as a distraction following the Pats’ win, his first interview conducted since the original remarks were made, proved to be a step in the right direction and back on the path he’s been on the past few years. Moss did a number of things right in the ESPN interview with Storm.
Here are 12 of them:
1. He answered all of her questions and did so in a humble, conversational, non-emotional, informative manner.
2. He clarified a number of things and made it clear this was the first and last time you’re going to hear him talking about his contract, apologized if anyone felt disrespected, and made it clear he does not want to leave New England.
3. He owned his previous baggage and reiterated that he has been working hard to clean up his past reputation.
4. He found a couple of ways to incorporate Capitol One’s Invisible Bank (sponsorship) into his comments.
5. He was supportive of Pats’ quarterback Tom Brady’s new contract when asked about if it served as an impetus for him to make his remarks about his own situation.
6. He talked about how he loves his job, takes it seriously, and wants to remain part of the Patriots’ organization.
8. He owned the fact that the timing for his comments was bad.
7. He kept his conversation with his coach private, but was clear about his understanding he cannot make statements like that going forward.
8. He did not get rattled when Storm asked about the comment New York Jets’ cornerback Darelle Revis made, calling Moss “a slouch” earlier this summer on NFL Network. Moss replied that he doesn’t play into the trash talking. His response was great, too:
“Words don’t really hurt me. I guess he’s entitled to say what he wants to say. Then again, we’re coming to the Meadowlands on Sunday, so I guess he’ll get 60 minutes of this slouch. I don’t really get into the trash talking, but if what he called me was a slouch, I guess the slouch will be there to see you on Sunday.”
Classic. Love it!
9. Moss was calm, clear, and professional in his position that he was going to give the Patriots a reason to keep him and if not, give another team a reason to keep him.
10. He focused on the good that has come out of his time playing in New England.
11. He did his best to clearly differentiate between the game and the business.
12. His teammates backed him and supported him in subsequent interviews (see New England Patriots Blog
where Mike Reiss highlights some of the comments from the Pats’ locker room).
WHERE HE CAN IMPROVE – WHAT HE SHOULD HAVE DONE
1. Not mention or speak on behalf of his family’s financial future and security.
Probably not a good idea to talk about money. Simply put, when you’re a professional athlete and you’re making an exorbitant salary, the rest of the world really cannot empathize, nor do they want to hear about your desire to ensure ‘financial stability’ for your family. When dealing with the court of public opinion, referencing the “injustices” of your contract will never go over well. You have to remember, one of your game checks is more than the vast majority of people make in a year.
2. Not focus on what others may think or say.
Moss stated in his post-game presser, “A lot of people don’t want to see me do good.” Although this may be true, there is no need to focus on those who “don’t really like Randy Moss” and “don’t want to see me do good.” Why? Because it opens the door for reporters and begs the question “be specific, who exactly doesn’t want to see you succeed?” One of our media training tenants is “do not open the door to probing questions about things you are not ready to or able to talk about by making sweeping generalizations, ambiguous statements, etc.”. Stay focused on the message and don’t let things beyond your control dictate your statements and responses.
3. Allow the public to see more of Randy Moss the leader, his passion for winning, and the great teammate he is.
4. Stop the references of “wanting to get this off my chest.”
You can work in the messages you want to “get off your chest” in your responses and do it in a way where you’re not saying that exact phrase. If you’re in a personal setting, that’s one thing, but it’s never a good idea to “get things off your chest” while the cameras are rolling.
LESSONS LEARNED AND TAKEAWAYS
It is important to remember that not every athlete will have an opportunity to clarify, explain or discuss what they said after the fact, let alone using the national platform that ESPN provides. But Moss did a great job getting back on track by remaining non-emotional, well-spoken, conversant, and honest.
By all accounts, Randy Moss has been a model citizen, an outstanding player, and a great teammate since joining the Patriots. Even though his past stints with the Minnesota Vikings and Oakland Raiders ended on a less than favorable note, Moss has clearly turned around the perception of who he is through both his on and off-the-field actions as a member of the Patriots’ organization and is doing a great job when it comes to managing his reputation and rebuilding his brand.
He has matured through the years not only as a player, but as a professional. He doesn’t need a reality show or a forum to air his grievances on a daily basis. His play is still outstanding and barring his most recent press conference, he has been doing a good job working with the media.
This may be one of the best and quickest recoveries by a professional athlete following a “stumble” in the media. Randy Moss is working hard and is focused and we wish him the best of luck!