By: Tom Malone
With the rise of instantaneous updates and investigative reporting in sports media, audiences see everything. Instant replay camera angles increase season by season. Through this, we see each play from a variety of viewpoints, allowing us to empathize with the athletes we watch. These cameras also capture the scrappy, dirty, formerly unseen violence that naturally occurs in sports. Extreme circumstances blow up on ESPN. How do athletes involved in on-field violence recover from a tattered image?
Let’s ask former Oregon Duck running back LeGarrette Blount. Remember, after the Ducks lost to Boise State University in a highly publicized opening week game, Blount punched a BSU player in the jaw, sending the player to the floor with jelly legs.
Head Coach Chip Kelly suspended him indefinitely, but repeatedly defended and deflected questions by inquisitive sports journalists. Eventually, Blount regained some respect in his image and was drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Fans still remember the punch and will likely never forget it. The punch received more media coverage than any of his phenomenal plays and it poses a public relations crisis management disaster for the university and the athletic department.
More recently, Ndamukong Suh of the Detroit Lions stomped his way into NFL infamy. After a tackle and the play-ending referee whistle, Suh blatantly stomped on the opposing player’s facemask. ESPN analysts were all over it, quickly dubbing the incident the “Thanksgiving Stomp”.
How did his Subway endorsement like that? Suh continued to appear in NFL public service announcements that encouraged kids to play outside. He even appeared as a guest analyst during the NFL playoffs after his team was eliminated. Suh spoke gently and eloquently, diminishing his image as a violent warrior. Like Blount, Suh’s fans will likely remember the “Thanksgiving Stomp” for years to come. One instance of on-field violence instantly altered Suh’s clean image.
After reviewing the ample camera angles that caught the stomp, Pepe admitted his mistake and apologized to Messi. Sure, Barcelona fans probably hate Pepe, but he plays for their biggest rival, so they will regardless. For the rest of us, an apology does fix the matter to some degree, but the image of the stomp will have a stronger effect on Pepe’s image than any apology can.
Athletes should avoid violence on the field if they want to portray themselves as clean and pure. In the heat of battle, violent acts are bound to occur. How will the athlete and their public relations strategy deal with the consequences?