This past Saturday, I sat on a panel at the 2010 NSU Sports & Entertainment Law Symposium. It was a fantastic event, and I thank the entire Executive Board for including me as a part of the event. I spoke on a panel titled, Redemption: Athletes Overcoming Their Indiscretions. It was an honor to sit alongside Alan Fertel, Partner, Pathman Lewis, LLP, Jason Weiss, Associate, Arnstein & Lehr, LLP, and Theodore Curtis, Professor of Sports Management, Lynn University. We had a great discussion, that revolved around what not to do (Tiger Woods), good damage control (Donte Stallworth), and a mixture of both (Gilbert Arenas).
An interesting part of the Woods discussion centered on whether he was instructed by his advisors to take the course of action that he followed or if he was advised to act differently, but did what he thought was best. I believe that his advisors most likely told him accept responsibility and apologize at an early stage (which would be the appropriate thing to do), but that he ignored is because he believed that he was truly invincible. What we saw last week, which was hardly a press conference, was Woods’ realization that he could not escape the media and slightly gave in to the public’s desire to hear him speak.
As advisors, all we can do is suggest the way we believe our clients should act. At the end of the day, we are employed by the athletes (the principals); if they don’t want to listen, they do not have to. But if they are not going to listen to us, then why pay us in the first place? That’s what Gilbert Arenas figured. The guy negotiated his own 6-year, $111 million contract. Would an agent have done any better? Maybe not. But would an agent possibly helped Arenas after Arenas was found storing guns in his locker and drawing a weapon on his teammate? Quite possibly. Arenas acted very stupidly thereafter, but eventually came to his senses, hired an attorney from Washington D.C. and accepted full responsibility and apologized.
That’s the key: Accept responsibility and apologize as soon as possible (unless you are being charged with killing somebody – Stallworth). The problem comes when an athlete is employing all of these different “advisors” who are pulling the athlete in different directions. Another thing I think is important is that even though social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter allow instantaneous communication between an athlete and the entire world, the 4th Estate (traditional media) cannot be forgotten. Tiger Woods basically gave the media the middle finger throughout his career, so why would they do him any favors at this point. Make the media your best friend, or else they will look for any opportunity to pin you and your clients.
Since speaking on the panel, I have read one article that makes me shake my head sideways and one that makes me shake my head up and down. The sideways: Elijah Fields Got Paid, Kicked Off Pitt Football Team. The up and down: Anything Worth Doing.
The post about Fields shows the potential harm that sites like Twitter can cause for athletes. One act of stupidity can kill a career. The other post is about the damage control used by Jeremy Jeffress’s agent after he received a 100-day suspension for substance abuse. While Joshua Kusnick and I have had our differences in the past, this particular post on his blog is brilliant. Here are some parts of his piece:
The first step in repairing a damaged image is to apologize but only if its sincere. The second step in this process was finding a place for this player to get help for his problem.
And that’s the game plan when something goes awry. 1.Get everyone calm. 2.Contact the media and apologize 3. Get help. 4. Apologize more. 5. Live up to all the promises you have made. It doesn’t take dangerous gypsy magic to rehabilitate an image, just genuine contrition and the desire to right your life.
No one is perfect. Apologize, be sincere, mean it, and act on it. For the most part, the public will not forget, but they will forgive.