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Why All of Sports Needs Better Public Relations

Note: This post was written before the Manti Te’o fake-girlfriend scandal. However, I chose not to later add anything about it because, well, enough has already been said about it. But if anything, it further emphasizes the point of this post. -SS

The idea for this post came to mind a few days before this happened:

ESPN’s Brent Musburger “went too far” in comments about an Auburn grad, the girlfriend of Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron, who appeared on-air during the Crimson Tide’s victory Monday against Notre Dame in the BCS title game.

The network apologized for that.

During the cablecast, Katherine Webb, Miss Alabama, was caught on camera sitting near McCarron’s mother.

Webb obviously impressed Musburger, 73, who said, “You quarterbacks, you get all the good-looking women. What a beautiful woman. Wow!”

(from USA TODAY Sports, Jan. 8, 2013)

I had the BCS game on in my living room and was standing in my kitchen preparing dinner when I heard Musburger’s comments. Besides the fact that, as a female, I was completely appalled by his brazen and (in my opinion) disgusting judgments involving a woman’s appearance, my brain clicked over to the public relations side of the incident. I shook my head and thought, just wait until somebody apologizes for that. No way can that be gotten away with.

And then I began looking for more examples of bad behavior in sports exemplifying the need for more effective public relations – and, to state the obvious, they weren’t too hard to find. USA TODAY Sports was ripe with unsavory exemplars.

Saying stupid things

Rob Parker (from helmet2helmet)

Rob Parker was recently let go from ESPN after this incident involving race-related comments toward RGIII.

“Parker, who is African American, made those comments on the morning talk show First Take, about Griffin, who is also African American, possibly being a ‘cornball brother’ who is ‘not really down with the cause.’”

(from USA TODAY Sports, Jan. 8, 2013)

Fired defensive coordinator Rob Ryan told ESPNDallas.com about his former team (the Cowboys): “I inherited a team that was 31st in the league in defense and made them better. I (expletive) made them a hell of a lot better. I’ll be out of work for like five minutes.”

Ties to criminal behavior

Brooklyn Nets forward Andray Blatche was questioned by Philadelphia police in connection with a sexual assault complaint at a Philadelphia hotel, two people with knowledge of the investigation told USA TODAY Sports.

Bryan Thomas (from NY Post)

New York Jets linebacker Bryan Thomas has applied for admission into a special probation program to resolve charges of assaulting his wife and possessing painkillers and marijuana paraphernalia.

Thomas, 33, was charged Oct. 31 in Randolph, N.J., where he lives, with aggravated assault upon his wife at their home. The linebacker allegedly pushed his wife with a kitchen chair, punched her in the stomach, and grabbed her by the neck, causing pain and marks on her body, according to criminal complaints. (from USA TODAY Sports Jan. 8 2013)

Just generally being irresponsible

Ray Lewis’s dance around the field after the Ravens’ win over Indianapolis was perceived as disrespectful by one Colts player, who chastised Lewis’s behavior on a radio show. Lewis responded with something along the lines of, “I guess the trot around the field was disrespectful, too.” (from USA TODAY Sports Jan. 8 2013)

Mark Cuban (from the Village Voice)

Mark Cuban has ranked up over $2 million in fines since becoming the owner of the Dallas Mavericks in 2000. The most recent one of $50,000 came because of a tweet remarking upon poor officiating. While not a lot of money for Cuban, having to pay $50K for one tweet for a normal person is insane.

I found all this news just on the sports homepage, in one day. And to top it all off, running right next to the story about ESPN’s apology for Musburger’s comments was a photo gallery containing various glamour shots of Miss Alabama. Shameless.

The fact that this is all so easily found and that there is clearly an audience for all this scandal makes me extremely disappointed in American sports culture. Sports players doing good deeds rarely get a second look by mass media. Kevin Durant, whom for full disclosure is my favorite basketball player, recently retweeted a picture of himself with an adoring fan “making his birthday wish come true” at an Oklahoma City children’s hospital for kids with physical and mental disabilities– the picture, seen here, is truly heartwarming. But this was absolutely nowhere to be found on any national sports website.

And at this point, it’s not even a surprise. While people love seeing cute pictures of kittens and unborn babies grabbing doctors’ fingers from the womb, when it comes to sports figures, being a foul-mouthed, sexist, racist or otherwise inappropriate imbecile on national television will most certainly increase your media coverage two-fold. And let’s not even talk about criminal behavior. I’m sure you all can think of some examples of that (cough-O.J. Simpson-cough).

Of course, all the bad things sports figures do are news. I’m not advocating that media organizations stop covering the behaviors of the few. I’m advocating for more coverage of the marketable qualities of the majority. One thing the league offices for the NBA and NFL, among others, have in common is that their reaction toward player behaviors that deviate from the well-regulated norms is always to squash those behaviors. The big leagues take pride in the fact that they’re vanilla (not literally vanilla, but their reputations are pretty darn vanilla), and they disregard the fact that in these days diversity is what makes brands stronger. I bet if you asked PR professionals to describe the buzzwords surround pop-culture hits of the past year, “unique” and “individualism” would top the list. And of course, these sport figures are also role models to many youths aspiring to have careers of fame in a game they love. The last thing these brands should be doing is making themselves appear militant.

Well, with one exception: Zach Randolph, power forward of the Memphis Grizzlies, is afraid of cats.

Zach Randolph (from EliteDaily.com)

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