Welcome to 2010. Happy New Year and thanks for all of your comments on what to cover for the first topic of the year. Your voices have been heard. So it’s out with the old, in with the new, right? That is unless you’re talking about reputation management and crisis PR in the world of sports and entertainment. 

Let’s take a look at some of the most recent stars needing to enter Comment Communications’ “Reputation Rehab” and the impact of their actions. First up? None other than the Washington Bullet – I mean Washington Wizard – himself, Gilbert Arenas

ATHLETE: Gilbert Arenas. 

MOST RECENT BAD DECISION: NBA superstar decides it’s “bring your guns to work day,” to what, collect on a $4,000 gambling debt from a teammate? Then he proceeds to make matters worse by following up the firearm incident by joking about it on Twitter. After the ridiculous “tweets” (c’mon man!), he makes a public mockery of the situation on the basketball court the next night by pretending to shoot his teammates with his finger prior to the Washington Wizards’ game against Philadelphia. Now, unless you’re a police officer or serve in the military, what do you think would happen if you decided to show your guns at work, let alone across state lines? 

IMPACT: As of now, the $111 million dollar man is suspended indefinitely without pay by the NBA. Team ownership has distanced itself from him and issued a strong statement condemning his actions, and he faces possible legal consequences. Arenas is dealing with a current loss of $147,208 per game and there are a lot of games left this season. That’s a lot of money. Shoot (I probably shouldn’t type “shoot”…) one game check is more than most people make in a year. The substantial suspension is one thing, but it was Arenas’ “ongoing conduct” that led the NBA’s Commissioner to make the determination that Arenas is “not fit” to take the court in an NBA game. Therein lies the difficulty in the prospect of a reputation turnaround. 

RECOVERY: Can it be fixed? Yes. Gilbert seemed to be on the right path earlier this season, but how this situation will play out remains to be seen. Unfortunately for Gilbert, this isn’t his first offense off the court. If “The Chappelle Show” were still on, Agent Zero’s recent acts would be a classic case for “When Keepin’ it Real Goes Wrong.” Moving firearms across state lines, brandishing a firearm (or two, or three…) at your place of employment, showing no contrition for your actions, THEN issuing an apology after realizing the suspension, loss of income and pending legal ramifications for his actions are terribly real, amounts to an uphill battle to rebuild your reputation. 

Moving on to college football, the next individual’s story dominated ESPN’s end of last year/beginning of this year’s big story on the coaching front. 

COACH: Former Texas Tech Head Football Coach Mike Leach

MOST RECENT DECISION IN QUESTION: Leach (apparently) locked ESPN college football analyst and former SMU and pro football star, Craig James’ son, Adam, in an electrical closet for several hours while James was complaining of suffering from a concussion. Leach was told by the University he needed to apologize and make the situation right. According to the University, Leach refused to follow orders from his employer, was uncooperative in their attempts to help him keep his job in the wake of this incident, refused to apologize and accept responsibility, and was subsequently fired for insubordination and with cause. 

IMPACT: Leach lost his job and several million dollars in a terminated contract because he was fired for cause, following a recent contract extension amidst a very public spat over the particulars. In addition, Leach lost an $800,000 bonus the day before it was due, and is currently engaged in a war of statements with the University regarding who is telling the truth, which side wouldn’t apologize, what was or was not done wrong, etc. 

RECOVERY: Still TBD, but looking at the message boards in Lubbock, Texas from the Red Raider Nation, the court of public opinion seems to be split down the middle. He’s a great coach and I’m sure he’ll land somewhere soon. 

Next up? “Two and a Half Men’s” Charlie Sheen. 

CELEBRITY: Charlie Sheen

MOST RECENT BAD DECISION: Domestic violence charge against his wife in Colorado while on vacation. Not good. 

REPUTATION / FINANCIAL IMPACT: Still to be determined, BUT, after another mug shot, arrest, restraining order, etc., Charlie and his wife do not seem to be shying away from addressing the issue, as they have been somewhat open about it publicly and have alluded that they want the restraining order lifted so they can work on things together. Apparently he’s still showing up for work on one of America’s top sitcoms, CBS’ “Two and a Half Men,” but HANES has dropped him as a pitchman. It is no secret Charlie has had some behavior issues in the past. But like Robert Downey, Jr., we keep pulling for the guy to get it right. Will he get there? Absolutely.

There are others, of course. There’s R&B superstar Chris Brown and the handling of his crisis, which could really use a “do-over.” You have the Denver Broncos’ Brandon Marshall and his on-again, off-again good behavior / bad behavior saga that is on the verge of destroying his career. One of the NFL’s best receivers, suspended (again) by his coach prior to the final game of the season, essentially costing his team a shot at the playoffs. And there’s Tiger… Clearly, there isn’t any discussion necessary, as this has been perhaps the worst handled crisis management of a world-class athlete or celebrity ever. The transgressions, the statements on the website, the ducking of the media and public spotlight, hiatus from golf, and the subsequent loss of blue chip sponsors and a cost of $12.3 billion to his corporate sponsors’ shareholder value. This is your classic case study in what NOT to do.

Would the actions of Arenas, Leach, and Sheen be viewed differently if this were the first offense for each of them? Can they rebound from this? There are many examples of those who arguably have come back from the worst reputation hits imaginable (e.g., Mel Gibson, Kobe Bryant, Ray Lewis, etc.), and there are those who have not (e.g., Barry Bonds, Roger Clemons, Jeremy Mayfield, etc.). 

Looking at their issues from a “career in crisis” standpoint, if we take the obvious “just make good decisions” factor out of the equation, we can outline the steps necessary for one to recover from such catastrophic blows to their reputation. 



Have a solid crisis communications TEAM and PLAN in place before a crisis hits and when it hits, tweak that plan accordingly and move on it. Note: that plan does not mean, “Gee, I hope this never happens to me!” This plan STARTS and ends with a true team of strategic PR people to work WITH your legal counsel and/or management. And I do mean true PR pros here, NOT your friendly neighborhood publicist. No offense to my publicity brethren, but there is a difference in skill set. You can call me if you don’t know or understand it. I’m more than happy to explain it to you. Or, you can learn the hard way (hmmm…let’s think, Terrell Owens’s publicist and the infamous “T.O. has 25 million reasons to live” explanation given a couple of years ago…would love a do-over on that one, no?). 


Make sure your entire team (legal, PR, agents, management, marketing, etc.) is on the same page, because it is equally if not more important to win in the court of public opinion as it is in the court of law. You will be hard pressed to win the court of public opinion on your own. Having your agent or your lawyer speak on your behalf when in the midst of a full-blown crisis is not a good idea. Media and the public more often than not find this approach disingenuous and self-serving, and with social media influencing significantly how traditional media reacts and covers news today, you do not want to mess with an extremely savvy public. 


Or better yet, do not get on your boat, leave Florida, and sail away from the issue. It’s not going to get any better while you’re gone and you will only serve to further infuriate the media, shareholders, and stakeholders who have helped get you to where you are. 

4.    ADDRESS THE ISSUE immediately AND strategically.

Remember, it’s NOT about spin. When you spin, you are essentially creating ways to cover up something that’s not true. When you focus on being forthright, you stay on message and you put yourself in the position to successfully address the issues at hand. You do not lie, you own your level of responsibility, you respect those who have been impacted, and you are accountable for your actions. In the age of social media, people respect transparency. Getting caught lying while in a crisis situation only serves to make your journey back to the top even harder. 

5.    APOLOGIZE for, and OWN your transgressions or your role in the matter at hand and be forthright in the steps you are going to take to rectify the situation. 

If you do this right, you will gain the respect of the public back. 


Address it, deal with it and begin the painful process of MOVING FORWARD. Get back into what you do well and create new and positive stories for the media to talk about, fans to cheer about, and people to smile about. This is the fastest way to recovery. 


People will continue to bring it up. It may haunt you for days, weeks and years to come. Eventually, it will go away, but only if you take the proper steps in managing the crisis at the outset. You want to be remembered for how well you maneuvered through the crisis, not how poorly you handled the situation. 

If not, this “less than favorable” behavior that consists of conduct detrimental to teams, leagues, sponsors, wives, families, etc., will continue to dominate the news, negatively impact your reputation and financial opportunities (i.e., endorsements, employment, etc.), essentially tanking your career. 

This is reputation management made simple: 

Bad Judgment + Bad Behavior = Bad Outcome. 

So if you value yourself as a brand, do the following BEFORE a crisis hits: 

a.    Hire seasoned, qualified professionals around you and listen to them. We will save you from yourself and help you effectively manage your career, endorsements, image and reputation, etc. 

b.    Do not believe your own hype. You are not above the law, society, the league, the team, etc. You can – and in time, you will – be replaced, so keep it positive at all times. 

c.    Surround yourself with good people. If the people around you truly care about you, they are going to tell you what you need to know, NOT what you want to hear. That is the true definition of a friend and someone who is looking out for your best interests. Not someone who is going to say yes to you all the time and agree with everything you do because he or she is happy to be along for the ride. 

d.    LOSE THE ENTOURAGE. Chances are, the hanger-on’s whom you employ “Vinnie Chase style” more often than not provide little value in their ability to truly guide and manage your career. There are exceptions, yes, but you’re better off hiring a team of trusted and seasoned professionals to guide and manage your career, both on and off the field of play. In addition to the financial advisors, agents, lawyers, security, trainers, and managers, expand your team to include strategic PR team and a sports psychologist. 

e.    If you just made a stupid mistake, don’t make it worse by trying to handle it on your own, or have your lawyer or agent put your PR strategy together. Address it in the proper forum necessary to begin rebuilding your reputation. 

As for additional tips for those serious about minimizing the potential for crisis situations occurring? Call me. We can help.