Tag Archives: PR

So, for Penn State Football…Now What?

12 Jul

Welcome back to The Sports Ace, where the ESPYs were cancelled years ago.

Beaver Stadium on gameday (photo credit: Gene J. Puskar, AP)

The big sports-related story today, of course, is the announcement of the report detailing the results of Louis Freeh’s (and team’s) investigation into the sexual abuse scandal at Penn State.  I’ve blogged on this before, so I’ll suffice it to say for now that once again today I’m absolutely sick at what happened.  I hope that proper respect and restitution is paid to the victims, and I hope that those who are guilty pay the appropriate price for their dastardly deeds.  I think Christine Brennan of USA Today makes a pretty good statement here too…

Today, I’d like to focus on one (and perhaps under-reported, if that’s possible) angle of all this: sanctions on the football team itself.  The question has come up whether or not the NCAA or another governing body will impose any sanctions on the football program for the misdeeds of administrators and Paterno.  I’ve heard it argued both ways…but most of the talking heads right now don’t seem to want current program members to pay for the mistakes of those before them.    An interesting take, considering all that’s at stake here.

Personally, and with my PR hat on, I don’t think the NCAA, the Big Ten Conference and anyone else with a pulse has a choice: they have to punish Penn State, and come down hard.  The University, AND the football program.  Think of it from a public perception; unless you’re an alum, or a former PSU player, or someone with direct ties to the program, you identify most with the organization responsible for this scandal through its appearance on the field on fall Saturdays.  To the average Joe (no pun intended), to recruits and to the broader community, that IS Penn State football.  So, if no punishment is imposed that affected the program on the field, the average participant might not think anything happened at all.  Which, of course, isn’t even on the same planet of relevance…considering this is the most significant sports scandal of our time, and maybe any time.

So, what type of punishment is appropriate?  Obviously, punishment should be commensurate with the crime…and programs have been given the death penalty for less.  I’ll leave it to others to make this decision, but I think it would be well within the means of the NCAA and the Big Ten to shut down PSU football for a year or more until things get sorted out, the program and culture change, etc.  It would be an incredibly drastic step, one I’m not sure they have the cajones to take given the significance (and revenue-ability) of PSU football.

It’s unfortunate that innocent players, coaches, gameday staff and the like would have to pay for the mistakes of others, sure.  But let’s keep this in perspective, people…innocent people already have paid for mistakes.  Kids were raped.  By people who they trusted to keep them safe.  The abuse was covered up.  More kids were molested after the cover-up occurred, according to today’s report…which means that at least one if not several rapes should have been prevented.  This is as low as it gets, and it just so happens that it’s tied into Penn State and its football program.  The real victims here are the kids and their families, and to suggest anything else just seems to me to be out of whack.

That’s all for now.   I’m out like the American League.

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The Handler…Exposed

19 Jun

Welcome back to The Sports Ace, where it doesn’t take the better part of two weeks to play the College World Series.

(photo credit: Deadspin.com)

I learned this morning that Deadspin now has a regular contributor called “The Handler,” a self-described PR pro with several high-profile athlete clients.  In this second piece in the series, this author tries to expose what he feels the world of working with athletes is really like – deceitful and sordid.  Now, having worked with athletes myself, I don’t doubt any of the alleged stories/details described in the column, as unfortunate as that is to say.  And I won’t even say that The Handler isn’t committed to his clients’ success, as any good PR pro should be.  But…as an accredited and seasoned PR pro myself, I’m concerned about a few things I see in the piece.

First – I’m bothered by The Handler’s apparent motivations here.  In the PR business, our clients and our companies get the spotlight; we are the counselors behind the scenes that help facilitate success, and then over time we build a reputation for good work and high integrity among our peers.  By even writing this piece, it’s clear to me that The Handler is isolated from other pros and tired of watching his clients get all the attention, and he wants some for himself.  Or, at least, he wants some credit for his self-described “professional accomplishments”…which really won’t come anyway because third parties assign credit/expertise, not individuals for themselves.  Ultimately, besides the money Deadspin is likely shelling out for the series, I’d bet The Handler won’t be fulfilled from writing this piece.  Attention and credit are impossible to receive when there’s no one earning the credit or no name for anyone to give attention/credit to.

Second – there are potential ethics breaches that come from this.  On the plus side, The Handler is contributing to the free flow of information and fostering open communication about a subject matter.  He also protects confidential information about his clients…only by not naming them.  (That, of course, would blow up in his face – and likely end his career – if his identity leaks out somehow.)

But that’s where it ends.  Without giving all the details (especially names) the public only gets some of the story and has to guess at the rest.  That’s no way to establish the facts and open up a truly productive debate about the issue at hand.  Also, what self-respecting PR pro in his right mind goes anonymous?  Quite simply, that’s code for “I’m afraid” or the cardinal sin of PR itself, “No comment;” it implies guilt and suggests that even by coming clean, The Handler has called his professionalism and integrity into question.   Finally, and most important, one of the key ethical tenets of PR is to work to strengthen the public’s trust in the profession and our clients; if we are not trustworthy, and seen as high-integrity, we cannot function as PR people.  I fear the average Joe reading this will now (again) associate PR with spin doctoring, covering up facts and protecting clients at all costs, legal and illegal.  That’s not what I want others thinking about what we do…because that’s NOT what we do.

Apparently, this column isn’t going away…Deadspin, after all, loves sensational stories that will grab web traffic.  Unfortunately, I have a hunch that means this could be the first of many posts reminding readers of the truths and practices of the PR industry that I know and love, inside and outside of the sports world.

That’s all for now.  I’m out like LaDainian Tomlinson.

Thoughts on Norwood Teague

15 Jun

Welcome back to The Sports Ace, where all NBA basketball games are played with the intensity and passion that the Finals are.

Norwood Teague (photo credit: AJ Mansour, KFAN.com)

Next Monday, Norwood Teague starts as the new Athletics Director at my beloved University of Minnesota.  He replaces Joel Maturi, who ran the department for more than 10 years to mixed reviews.  Many people have asked for my thoughts on the hire, both personal and with my PR hat on, so I thought I’d capture them here.

First, I think the hire tells you some things about the new University president Eric Kaler and his administration.  For one, he’s not afraid to delegate important items to others.  Also, he believes the course the University is already on is the right one, and needs to be properly shaped as opposed to completely overhauled.  Nowhere is this more evident than in context of the football program, which had flashes of competence in the 2000s but not much else to speak of since a run of national titles in the early 1960s.  Jerry Kill will be starting his second year as head coach this fall, and Kaler clearly feels Kill is the right guy long-term for the program.  Why?  It’s not just that he gave him a 7-year extension after his first conference win last year.  It’s also that Teague, the new AD, has no experience running a top-tier football program.  At VCU, Teague had no football team, and at North Carolina Teague wasn’t responsible for football.  Bottom line – it’s Kill’s program, for better or worse, and Teague’s hire was meant to bolster other areas of the program that needed it.

Second, Teague is known as a fundraiser – which will be a GREAT fit for the Gophers.  The U of M has several needs…a new basketball practice facility, upgrades/renovations to Williams Arena and other facilities and more booster donations to offset wildly unpopular ticket price hikes, to name a few.  Teague’s track record in this area will enable him to notch both quick and long-term wins, which should make a big difference on the program.

Third, Teague’s crowning achievement at VCU was the rise of the basketball program, which went to the 2011 Final Four and the 2012 Sweet 16 as the ultimate Cinderella.  Teague gets the credit for finding and hiring Shaka Smart, and for facilitating the success of the squad.  It is with men’s basketball that the University of Minnesota has the greatest chance for near-term success in a revenue sport; the Gophers are projected to be a top-25 team and a top-four finisher in the ultra-tough Big Ten in the 2012-2013 season, so the cupboard is far from bare.  If anyone can make a tweak here and there, and help the program return to sustained national prominence quickly, it’s Teague.  Then, with basketball rolling along, he can invest in other areas of the department…one team’s success will breed other’s, just like it has at Ohio State, Texas and other major schools.  It’s akin to building a house one brick at a time – with a solid foundation to go on, the house could stay strong and last a long time.

All in all, I like the hire.  Time will tell, of course, but even despite the lack of direct experience with football it seems like the U hired the kind of guy that can help fix the department’s greatest weaknesses…and that’s encouraging.

That’s all for now.  I’m out like the Houston Astros on Wednesday night.

BountyGate and the NFLPA

11 Jun

Welcome back to The Sports Ace, where holding all four Grand Slam tennis titles at once is a regular occurrence.

So much has been made lately of the concussion issue in the NFL.  What I find most fascinating about it is how the NFLPA is treating the issue.  On one hand, they’re working hard to secure benefits and compassion for injured players, especially retired players who didn’t make the millions that today’s athletes do…this played a major role in the labor disagreement that threatened last season.  But on the other hand, they’re now defending the very people who have emerged as a serious threat to their members’ safety.

I’m referring specifically to BountyGate, of course.  The NFLPA, very early on, had a very difficult decision: support the handful of players punished by the NFL and help defend their rights, or endorse Goodell’s rulings and condemn the guilty parties’ actions in a move to underscore their pro-health position for the rest of the league’s current and former players.  This was a decision they must have agonized over, but in the end they chose to support the handful.  The NFLPA is vigorously defending Jonathan Vilma and others, trying to get their suspensions shortened and the like.  I’m here to tell you I think they made the wrong call.

If there’s one thing the NFL and its fans have been adamant about over the past 6-12 months, it is preserving the health of players – current and former.  No one wants to see cases like Junior Seau’s, or others like it.  No one wants to see players carted off a field due to injury.  And, especially, no one wants to see actions on a football field that would be criminal off the field.  The evidence against the BountyGate players and coaches, at least the stuff that’s been released to the public, is jaw-dropping…and rock solid.  Yet the NFLPA still defends the handful, and undercuts its pro-health stance by doing so.  Put another way: by supporting the 1% on this issue, the NFLPA failed to support the 99%.  The result is that the NFLPA has brought into question where it stands on player injuries, and what side it will come down on in the future.

If I were a card-carrying member of the NFLPA (like Chris Kluwe, who’s ranted about this on Twitter @ChrisWarcraft), I’d be seriously concerned about whether or not the union I belong to really has my best interests in mind.  From the fan’s perspective, or the NFL’s, I’m seriously concerned that the NFLPA might not be committed to ensuring that the game continues to grow and prosper for decades to come.  Either of these matters is enough to generate a firestorm of debate and controversy for the NFLPA, and I think it’s only a matter of time before more people inside and outside of the league ask these kinds of hard questions.  The result could change the NFLPA as we know it today.

It’s simple, really: pick a side, and stick with it.  The NFLPA has acted to straddle both sides of the line on the broader topic of player injury, and I think it could blow up in their face before this issue runs its course…if it ever does.

That’s all for now.  I’m out like Francisco Liriano.

Anatomy of a Nickname – and a Fan Base

9 Feb

Welcome back to The Sports Ace, where it’s always Rivalry Week.

Credit: Sports Flags and Pennants

Can anyone guess the most intense battle over a sports team nickname in recent memory?  Syracuse University?  Nope.  University of Illinois?  Think again.  Take a trip to Grand Forks instead, the epicenter of the debate over whether or not the University of North Dakota (UND) and its athletic teams can keep calling themselves the Fighting Sioux.

The arguments on both sides are no different than we’ve seen in other name-questioning cases around the nation.  In the “pro-change” camp, the name is offensive, disrespectful and even derogatory; in the “anti-change” category are those who value the logo, the tradition, etc.

What makes the UND situation so different from all the others, however, is the passion the resistance has fought with.  This battle has raged – no lie – since 2009, and it got new life yesterday with UND’s decision to go ahead and just keep the name and logo.  This, despite the NCAA’s standing ban on UND hosting any sanctioned regional/national events, UND’s conference threatening expulsion and more.  Yes, that’s all true.

It’s no shock that supporters of great brands are intensely loyal.  Look at Coca-Cola, or Skittles, or any major Detroit automaker…whether in business or sports, brands create experiences, feelings and identities that encapsulate us.  Over a very long time, the UND logo and nickname has become an identity for Grand Forks residents and ardent UND fans – in many ways, it IS who they are.  Syracuse?  It’s a city of 145,000, with 3-4x that amount in its immediate area, a dynamic economy and Buffalo, Rochester and even NYC within a few hours.  Champaign-Urbana, Illinois?  A smaller city and total college town, but still 200,000 people give or take in the area and definite ties to Chicago, Indianapolis and St. Louis.  Grand Forks?  A population of roughly 67,000, and definitely the most isolated of the three.  Quite simply, there’s less in Grand Forks, and accordingly there are fewer things that residents naturally have to identify with, support, get behind and endorse.  This means their affinity for the local institutions/brands they do have – aka UND – is often stronger.  Conversely, this means it’s harder for them to disassociate from those entities, or make a simple switch to new ones.

I’m not here to say whether the school should keep their name or not.  I’m not ripping Grand Forks for being a smaller, more isolated city either…far from it.  All I’m saying is that the long history of the Fighting Sioux nickname and the unique geography of North Dakota have contributed to a particularly strong and passionate UND brand and identity.  While other institutions have found ways to adjust and move on, UND supporters have resisted hard, proving they can’t live without the nickname – or won’t it give up without one helluva fight.  It just reinforces how strong a brand can be, and how valuable significant/shared experiences can be to an institution.

But they can’t have their cake and eat it too – if they keep their name, and the rest of the college sports world moves on without them, they’ll have to adapt and assimilate or risk fading out of the picture.  That of course would be far more damaging to UND and the region than a name change, especially now when athletic programs as a whole are generally on the rise.

That’s all for now.  I’m out like Carmelo Anthony.