A few weeks ago, I talked about athletes who have been given a second chance and the importance of managing that shot as it may be their last shot at redemption.
With major college football programs such as USC, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Tennessee, Oregon, South Carolina, Florida, Michigan, etc., facing penalties for major rules infractions, legal issues surrounding player arrests, violations, etc., combined with the immediate and 24-hour news cycle and the digital age we live in, prominent athletes living "under the microscope" has an entirely new meaning.
One of the more prominent players to fall from grace in the past year is former University of Oregon quarterback, Jeremiah Masoli. Hailing from Daly City, California, Masoli was one of college football's elite signal callers while leading the Oregon Ducks football team to tremendous success in the Pac-10 Conference, with a conference championship and Rose Bowl under his belt. Unfortunately, Masoli found himself in the news as much for his off the field mishaps and legal trouble as he did for his on the field heroics.
If you’ve seen Masoli play, it is evident this kid is gifted and was clearly “one to watch” prior to the self-inflicted fall from grace at Oregon. He was forced to leave the school and recently was granted one last opportunity to redeem himself and give himself a chance to play on Sundays in the NFL. Masoli has enrolled at The University of Mississippi as a graduate student and will walk-on (non-scholarship player) with the Ole Miss football team. Under NCAA rules, he will be eligible to play right away, and Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt has made it very clear there is no margin for error for Masoli.
So what should Masoli do to ensure he gives himself the best chance at redemption?
1. Make sure his past behavior does not repeat itself. Translation? Change everything. Adopt a new program and a new way of doing things.
This seems obvious, but the key for Masoli is to do the right thing all the time. If that means getting new friends, then so be it. Masoli doesn't need anyone impeding his revival. He must watch with whom he associates, where he goes, etc. In short, he cannot afford to be in "the wrong place at the wrong time" or provide that as an excuses, again. This will minimize (and in Masoli's case, eliminate) the opportunity for off the field transgressions.
2. Get a solid communications team on board and work with them through the crisis and reputation repair.
At some point during the course of their careers, all athletes will face a crisis of some proportion. How it is handled often determines the difference between reputation recovery and failure. Crisis management is one of the areas our team here at COMMENT Communications specializes in and our ability to manage our clients effectively through what we call the “Reputation Rehab” process and on the the Road to Reputation Recovery.
It seems based on the results produced by his current PR team, Masoli is headed on the path to redemption. Although he could still work on how he is effectively delivering on his messaging and positioning and how it is coming across, he appears to be heading in the right direction.
3. Work with your PR team and learn how to develop positive relationships with the journalists that cover the team and will be reporting on his progress.
This is an ongoing process and by no means should Masoli expect these reporters will be his "friends." They still have a job to do and Masoli must be careful. Relationships are everything and your PR team has them with key reporters. Remember, reporters are not "your friends" per se. They have a job to do and that job is to report the story. But by becoming more "media friendly," Masoli will at least give himself a better chance to recover. Regardless of the situation, balanced stories all start with positive working relationships with the media.
4. Be a model citizen in the community, on campus, on the field, and in the media.
5. Stay focused on the big picture and don't get caught up in the moment. Stop for a moment and ask, "Is this worth it?" if the action you are about to embark upon is questionable.
6. If necessary, think about working with a sports psychologist and any other professionals who can provide the necessary support to keep him out of trouble and out of jail.
We've said it before and we'll say it again - 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 and 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.
There are no guarantees Masoli will have an opportunity to play in the NFL. But he now has another chance to put himself in a position to fulfill that dream. His success off-the-field at Ole Miss will be as (if not more) important than his success on the field. Whether or not he makes it to the next level (let alone earns the starting job in Oxford, Mississippi), Masoli has an opportunity to redeem himself, rebuild his reputation, and have that story told to a nationwide audience throughout the fall. If he can achieve this, it will give him a chance to earn a living in whatever career he chooses after college.