There is no question we live in a country of second chances. Week after week we watch high profile figures careers tumble overnight because of bad decisions they’ve made or things they’ve said and done. Last week was no exception as Michael Vick, Vince Young and Cedric Benson were in the news for regrettable “off the field” mishaps taking place in the clubs and bars of Virginia Beach, Virginia, and Dallas and Austin, Texas.

All three of these young, high profile athletes have been given a second, but there is no question that the biggest second chance has been given to Vick, and the week’s biggest mishap involved a shooting following a birthday party thrown for him in Virgnia Beach.

Although law enforcement has made it clear at this point that he is not a focal point of the investigation, it doesn’t change the fact that for better or worse Vick’s name is once again associated with trouble. The fiesta at the Virginia Beach nightclub where Vick’s birthday party was held, turned fiasco when the night ended with a shooting. The victim in this case? Police identified him as a co-defendant in Vick’s now infamous dogfighting case. According to CBS, Vick’s attorney stated Michael wasn’t present at the nightclub when the shooting happened, and that he and his brother Marcus apparently hadn’t even invited the “party crashing” victim who insulted its hosts. Vick's attorney's statements have since been brought into question by surveillance videos showing Vick leaving the restaurant later than what he had originally told the police.

Is Vick a “victim of circumstance” in this case? It doesn’t matter. It shouldn’t even be an issue.

Why? Because when you are a second-chance athlete, you do not have the same margin for error. The high standard you were already held to is even higher. Is it fair? It doesn’t matter. It’s not about being fair; it’s about being smart.

Mistakes are going to happen. We’re all human. The key is to minimize the opportunity for those off the field transgressions. It’s okay to have fun, go out and be social. But when you’re a public figure (especially when you are young, rich and famous), you live under a microscope. If you’re not watching what you do, with whom you associate, where you are, etc., you are not protecting yourself. And if you are that high profile athlete with a blemish or two on your reputation, you cannot afford to be in “the wrong place at the wrong time” anymore.
So what do you do? How do you prevent these things from happening?
1. Stop for a moment and ask yourself one very simple question. “Is this worth it?”
Risk vs. Reward. Is it worth risking your career, substantial income, reputation, etc., for a few hours of superficial fun spent around a number of people stroking your ego and wanting to be around you not for who you are but because of your status? Also, understand most mishaps take place after midnight and usually in the off-season when there is no set structure in place for pro athletes to adhere to.
2. It’s probably a good idea to stay away from the clubs, strip clubs and bars.
Put your ego aside and celebrate your birthday with your friends and family in the comfort of your own home or some place not so public. Vince Young, Adam “Pacman” Jones, Ben Roethlisberger, Michael Vick, etc., you are too high profile to put yourself, your reputation and your team, organization and league at risk. At this point in your career, spending time in one of these establishments is like playing without your helmet on. Not a good idea.
3. Really evaluate the people who are occupying your space. Translation? Eliminate the unnecessary entourages and hanger-ons. Am I saying it’s time to change some of the individuals you have surrounding yourself? If that’s what it takes, then yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying. Unless of course you don’t care if they directly or indirectly cost you your career. If trouble just “seems to follow you,” then guess what? It’s time to change the road you’re traveling, chart a new course and put together a new game plan. You really don’t need anyone around you in your inner circle that does not have just as much to lose as you, if not more.
4. Get a strong team of trusted advisors around you and pad your inner circle with experts. We’ve said this a million times because this is critical for your success. This includes your agent, manager (if applicable), PR team, financial advisor, etc. Work with them and don’t let them just “handle” your stuff; take a vested interest in what they are doing and how the decisions made will impact you. It’s amazing how quickly you will find yourself really caring about where your money goes, why you may or may not secure endorsement opportunities, how your reputation impacts other companies decisions to do/not do business with you, what your future opportunities look like, etc.
The Bottom-Line
Common sense and good judgment go a long way when it comes to reputation management. For those in our profession, we can conduct all of the media or success training in the world. But at the end of the day, not exercising common sense, having too big of an ego and just not being in touch with reality, will undo our best efforts every time.
Again, mistakes will happen, but as a high-profile, second-chance athlete, you will only get so many opportunities. The margin for error is slim at this point. So be smart about it and make sure if those “mistakes” happen, they aren’t because of your bad judgment or decision making process.