Accountability: On and off the Field
May 12, 2014
May 12, 2014
(Photo via AP)
The word accountability gets thrown around a lot in sports.
A coach or star player taking responsibility for failures can soften the blow of disappointment and strengthen confidence in a team’s potential. The inverse is sometimes true when they elect not to “face the music.”
This is not unique to on-field activity, though. Sports organizations, like any other, are met with crises and are judged on how they handle them.
Let’s take a look at three recent newsworthy events in sports and how they were handled by the various parties.
Former NBA owner Donald Sterling’s intolerance has been extensively covered (occasionally, very intelligently). One of the most fascinating pieces I read on the situation came from ESPN.com’s Ramona Shelburne in which she outlined the strategy behind Sterling’s reaction through the Clippers.
They discussed and weighed three different messages. The first was to cop to everything. Say that Sterling was sick, that he needed help, that he apologized and felt terrible for offending anyone. The second was to dispute the veracity of the tapes, question the motives of the woman on the tapes and why they were released, and argue that what's said on them misrepresents Sterling's true feelings. The third was to say very little except that the team would cooperate with the NBA investigation. Roeser felt the third message was the best option. Sterling did not. They went with defiance, and they stuck [Clippers team President Andy] Roeser's name on it.
Realistically, the deplorable nature of Sterling’s comments probably meant he was through. But, taking ownership of the comments and accepting the fallout would have been best for Sterling’s future; admit wrongdoing and hope for forgiveness down the road. Instead, his pride reigned supreme and it only served to dig a deeper hole. He’s beginning his apology tour now, but it’s too late for that now.
After a sizable volume of racially charged tweets against an opposing player of color, P.K. Subban, the Boston Bruins issued a statement divorcing the organization of the incident:
“The racist, classless views expressed by an ignorant group of individuals following Thursday's game via digital media are in no way a reflection of anyone associated with the Bruins organization.”
That they had to issue a statement in the first place is embarrassing to me as someone who considers himself a fan of the team – but at least they’re not ignoring it, right? Take a look at this statement they put out two years ago after a similar situation occurred:
“The Bruins are very disappointed by the racist comments that were made following the game last night. These classless, ignorant views are in no way a reflection of anyone associated with the Bruins organization.”
Same incident. Same response. Do they expect different results the next time it happens?
Instead, the Bruins should have acknowledged that the hateful messaging was done by fans of the team; admit that a problem exists in a segment of the fan base (as small as they may be). If they want to distance the organization from these people, make it public that they don’t want them showing up to games and buying merchandise. Let everyone know that their money and attention is not good if that’s what they’re going to do with it.
When Michael Sam was drafted on Saturday afternoon, he became the first openly gay selection in NFL history. A truly landmark moment that (like all other draft picks) was accented by Sam kissing his significant other. That kiss – and the decision to air it – received a tremendous amount of attention. Most of it was positive, but not all.
Miami’s Don Jones tweeted that the kiss was “horrible.” He deleted the message but the Internet is, of course, forever. After meeting with the team, he was fined and suspended. Jones will also be sent to sensitivity training to help him understand why his comments were as unacceptable as they were.
Given Miami’s recent history in the wake of Jonathan Martin, it was encouraging to see the organization step up immediately and make it known that this sort of behavior was unacceptable.
The take away here is when you, someone from your organization or someone associated with your organization makes a critical misstep, fast, accountable action must be taken. Ensure that those responsible are punished and don’t try to dismiss it as someone else’s problem. If your brand is out there, it’s on you to tell people what is and isn’t okay.