High Profile Athletes, High Profile Scandals

“It takes years to build a reputation, but only takes a few minutes to destroy it.”

We seem to put athletes on a pedestal, almost as if they are these untouchable, perfect specimens whom exude talent well beyond anything us mere “regular” people could ever dream. Regardless of how inimitable these athletes may seem, there is something that takes them, and brings them a little closer to our reality.

No professional athlete is impervious to a crisis, just like us.

When crisis hits an athlete, it’s like the world is crashing down on them. Cameras, reporters, fans, everyone is welcomed into their personal life and given every detail of whatever scandal or mistake they have made. For athletes, a crisis could mean lost sponsorships, lost dollars, mortified fans, and ultimately a ruined career in the blink of an eye.

With little time to waste in trying to fix the disaster that has just happened, most professional athletes have PR specialists on hand in order to get ahead of the situation and take all the necessary steps in planning damage control.

A public relations strategic communication team prepares an athlete to develop their message in response to the crisis, assists in laying out a plan for communicating with the media, fans, and sponsors, and ultimately puts them face to face with the cameras. Having an athlete directly apologize to the media is a much better way of ensuring a sincere apology than instead having someone else speak on behalf of the athlete.

Tiger Woods of the United States gestures to a fan to be quiet from the fifth green during first round play at the WGC Bridgestone Invitational golf tournament in Akron
Courtesy of http://www.sprksports.com

Let’s recall the 2009 Tiger Woods sex scandal and proceeding car accident. Many crisis communication experts believed the handling of the situation was poorly executed. Here’s why:

  • Wood’s mortification strategies and initial denial of the sex scandals created much criticism
  • He also remained silent days after the accusations were made causing the story to be shaped by everyone but him
  • By the time Wood’s decided to stop running from the truth, it resulted in him having to change his story and finally apologize for his transgressions, which totally backlashed
tiger joke
Courtesy of http://www.englishblog.com

During crisis, athletes should be honest, own up to the mistake, and be direct. Tiger’s attempts in trying to maintain privacy during the scandal ultimately lead him to even more disapproval. Tiger instead shouldn’t have waited to speak to the media and should have admitted to his mistakes immediately after the accusations were made.

Crisis plans are essential for all athletes. Because anyone is susceptible to making a mistake, there needs to be step by step protocol in how to defuse the situation initially and make sure that the response time is not lagging. In the end, PR strategists are crucial in making the client look good and maintain as much of the pristine reputation he or she had before the scandal took place.


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Please feel free to comment, provide feedback or suggestions, on any of my posts. For more information, email me at chueffne@uoregon.edu.

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