Off the Field, In the Spotlight
Published on February 18, 2016, at 7:00 p.m.
by Kala Brumbaugh.
Public scrutiny is often a hard pill to swallow. Making mistakes is a part of everyday life. These mistakes usually have minimal effect and are easily correctable. However, the process becomes more complicated when you have a large and diverse fan base.
Imagine being unable to have a night out with your friends without someone taking your photo and examining your every move.
We hold professional athletes to a higher moral standard because we admire them and what they do. Fans pay extra attention to favorite athletes and teams and notice when they receive publicity, whether it be good or bad. Fan opinion factors into a team’s success, which in turn, factors into the happiness of the fans.
Children, especially young boys, idolize these athletes. The players become role models, regardless of whether the athletes want that responsibility.
DeAndre Phillips, currently in his second season as director of communications for the New York Giants, has been in sports communications for 14 years. He had much to say about how players represent themselves.
“These players are ambassadors of the team’s brand and the NFL,” Phillips said. “They represent a lot of people, and when they don’t live up to that standard there are repercussions.”
An article from Momentology, a digital marketing and news resource, examined the NFL’s ability to remain profitable and unscathed by reoccurring scandal. According to the article, fans are more likely to overlook transgressions that affect a team or player because of their emotional connection to them. Forgiving fans are willing to put up with more, but are the teams?
When an athlete starts to receive more media attention for his social life than his professional life, it affects his reputation greatly. A recent example is Johnny Manziel, the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner and now back-up quarterback for the Cleveland Browns.
Manziel’s off-the-field antics have been the topic of controversy since he was drafted in 2014. According to a recent article in ESPN, his actions are a distraction to the team and continue to impair the team’s hard work and reputation. The ruin of his reputation and its effect on the team have been enough to cause the Browns to question his status as a member of the organization.
Each team and its owner promotes a certain image to its fans and the public.
“The owner expects professionalism and sportsmanship from the players,” Phillips said. “They are expected to conduct themselves in a first class manner on and off the field.”
Although a player’s social behavior mostly influences the individual player’s character rather than the team’s, it can create problems when it becomes a distraction to other team members.
“It is our duty to provide them with the best guidance possible, not just because it’s our job, but because once a player joins your team, they become family,” Phillips said. “You want to see the best for them.”
The reality is that we live in a rapidly evolving technological world. The ways we can send and receive media and news are changing, and the challenge of sports communications is at its peak. PR representatives in sports are constantly trying to stay ahead and find new ways to utilize a multitude of platforms and promote their players in a positive light.
The PR communications professionals for each team promote the same image and ideals the owner embodies. It is their job to repair the damage and advise players on how to proceed in an honest way. Developing trust with the players and team is crucial. Keeping players focused and on the right track demands strong on-and-off-the-field guidance from the team’s leadership.
Tad Dickman, senior manager of public relations for the Jacksonville Jaguars, has completed three seasons with the team. He addressed how the owner and PR department promote the team image.
“Our concept is transparency,” Dickman said. “We want our fans with us throughout our journey, through both the ups and downs. We also encourage our players to find their values, what they are passionate about, the difference they want to make and build on that.”
Football is not the only professional sport that faces public scrutiny of its athletes. For example, the NBA addresses similar challenges with some of its players. Each sport has its own set of challenges and ways to handle them, but the common thread is communication and the individuals who care about these athletes and their teams.