As if I really needed the reminder… #becauseitsthecup
Have you ever wondered what it must be like to cover a professional team as a sports reporter? This blog post, written by former NHL.com writer Dave Lozo perfectly articulates the experience, specifically the challenges of dealing with a “difficult” coach. Reading his account jogged so many memories of “first time” interviews and press conferences. For better, and for worse. Lozo covered the New York Rangers and head coach John Tortorella for four seasons. Enjoy, and be thankful it was him not you :)
The old press room in Madison Square Garden was a fitting setting for my introduction into covering John Tortorella. The tiny quarters had a suffocating, claustrophobic feel. The room was encased by cement bricks and filled with 20 or so metal folding chairs that faced a stage that held a table and chair where Tortorella would sit and answer – or usually, not answer – questions from the assembled media.
If a prison had a press conference room, this would have been it.
It was September 2009, and my extensive professional hockey writing experience totaled one Western Conference Final game and four Stanley Cup Final games, all of which were contested at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit the previous summer. I found myself covering these very important games after writing stories off conference calls in the earlier rounds that the usual writers couldn’t do because of travel situations.
It turned out my reward for that three weeks of work was four years covering the scariest coach in the NHL.
There’s no way to ever relay the terror that comes with that first press conference involving Tortorella. I had seen the videos, heard the stories and knew what to expect. Seeing as how it was my first day, I planned to simply sit back and watch the beat writers ask their pre-game questions and see how it went.
As became his routine during the season, Tortorella hobbled into the room with Rangers PR star John Rosasco at his side. Tortorella had a hip issue during the season that he would get corrected afterward, but it did nothing to soften his gruff personality. Tortorella walked up the three stairs, examined the chair and table as if it didn’t belong there, sat down, and looked out onto the gathered reporters with a long, deep sigh as if he were an 11-year-old and the human beings in the room were green beans he had to finish if he was going to be allowed to play video games later.
Times, they are a-changin’ when it comes to sexuality in the United States. With every new generation comes increased acceptance of gays and lesbians as evidenced by nine states (and Washington DC) legalizing gay marriage.
Roy Hibbert became the latest high profile athlete to learn a hard lesson from this culture shift after the Indiana Pacers beat the Miami Heat in Game 6 of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals on Saturday. During the the televised post game press conference Hibbert used the homophobic slur “no homo.”
Hibbert also dropped a “motherf****r” in that press conference, which was aired (and bleeped) on TNT. The “MF” hardly raised an eyebrow (although the NBA will surely fine Hibbert for using the more traditional curse word…UPDATE: The NBA fined Hibbert $75,000 for his post-game remarks), but the gay slur had the social media world buzzing with comments and criticism of Hibbert’s word choice.
Shortly after the press conference, the Pacers big man tweeted Jason Collins, requesting a conversation with the recently-out NBA player. The tweet has since been deleted and Sunday, Hibbert released a statement through the clean-up crew… errr…Pacers, apologizing for his comment.
While speaking with Collins is a fine idea, Hibbert should strongly consider giving Kobe Bryant a call.
Remember when Bryant landed in hot water after yelling a gay slur (the other “F” word) at a referee back in 2011? Well, Bryant’s bank account remembers as he was fined $100,000 by the league. Bryant issued the obligatory apology and professed that his words didn’t reflect his personal views (just as Hibbert has done), but the L.A. Lakers superstar put his money where his mouth is in continuing to advocate for acceptance by making public service announcements, publicly supporting Jason Collins and even calling out a fan’s anti-gay language on twitter.
Heck, maybe Hibbert, Bryant and Tim Hardaway should hold an NBA “acceptance summit.”
In Hibbert’s statement, he apologized for using the “slang” term. Yes, certain words and phrases are ingrained in our heads from a young age (or even during adulthood) and removing them from our vocabulary can take time and practice. I don’t know about you guys, but after making a conscious decision at the age of 14 (and with my Mom’s insistence), I kicked “gay” and “retarded” out of my lexicon for good. Were there occasional slip-ups early on? Absolutely, but unlearning hurtful words ain’t that tough a task.
Not long ago, a tweet popped up on my timeline written by an athlete from one of the many teams I covered for work. In his tweet, said athlete used the word “gay” in the context of “bad” or “stupid.” I immediately texted him a mini-lecture, detailing why he should remove the tweet (for his own sake) and that he should strongly consider attempting to remove the word, in such context, from his vocabulary both publicly and privately.
He quickly texted me back saying “you know I didn’t mean it like that,” so I text-lectured a bit further. Within five minutes of posting, the tweet had disappeared. A few hours later, the athlete told me he had received instant blowback from several of his twitter followers, prompting him to delete the tweet. He told me that he agreed with my stance and that he would make an effort to stop using “gay” in a negative connotation. I haven’t seen or heard him use the word since.
This player is a guy with a wonderful personality and a big heart. He was quite young at the time and it was apparent that all he needed was someone to point out something that he hadn’t considered previously. I cut him some slack and tried to help him out a bit because I didn’t think he was anti-gay, and I believed he fell into the “even good people make mistakes” category.
The aforementioned athlete, Bryant, and Hibbert all claimed that their hurtful words did not align with their personal beliefs and that their intent didn’t come from a discriminatory place.
Unfortunately, that is of little consequence to the closeted gay teenager who reads a tweet from his favorite pro-athlete and feels his heart sink. As much as some public figures stray from the “role model” position, it doesn’t make their words any less far-reaching or diminish the power of their actions.
Intentions are practically meaningless in situations like these because emotional and physical responses are attached to certain words (like the “N” word) that historically, have been used in the vein of hate, violence and persecution.
Kobe Bryant turned a huge negative into an even greater positive with the steps he has taken since his on-court outburst in 2011. I’m guessing the driving force behind such a drastic turnaround is sincerity. Do I know for a fact that Bryant isn’t anti-gay? No I don’t, but I’d be shocked if he was faking it. If Hibbert truly has no issue with homosexuality, he should follow in Bryant’s footsteps.
At what point will influential public figures like Hibbert (and plenty of others) step out of their personal bubbles and learn from the mistakes made by their peers and predecessors? At what point do we stop making excuses for ourselves and learn to do the right thing without having to first, do something wrong?
In LA? Watch us laugh & debate sports on #GoingRoggin, midnight tonight on KNBC Ch4 w/ @frednbcla @jfromcompton
After The Preakness keep your TV on NBC ch4…I’ll be on #GoingRoggin talking sports and cracking up w/ @frednbcla @jfromcompton
Debate sports and laugh with me, @fredNBCla and @mark_t_willard on #GoingRoggin. Tonight at 12:05am on NBC Ch.4 in LA
Friends in LA - please watch live or set your DVR for Going Roggin, Sunday night on NBC Channel 4. Show starts at 12:05am (technically Monday morning) and we’re hoping this episode gets the show’s highest ratings thus far! The show is funny and risqué, I think you’ll enjoy it. Thanks :)
Enjoyed round 2 of #goingroggin w/ @fredNBCla and @mark_t_willard. Set DVR Sun. night on KNBC Ch4
The movement for LGBT equality has been on the forefront of American politics and society over the last several years with professional athletics finally joining the party as sports stars spanning the globe have trickled out of the closet.
John Amaechi, Gareth Thomas, Robbie Rogers and Brittney Griner have all publicly disclosed their sexuality in recent years, proving that yes, some of the best athletes on earth are indeed gay.
Last week NBA player Jason Collins disclosed he is gay, becoming the first active male athlete in one of the four major North American team sports to come out.
Supporting Collins and the right for players to be open and honest about their sexuality were fellow athletes Baron Davis, Kobe Bryant, Chris Kluwe, Brendon Ayanbadejo, Scott Fujita, Steve Nash, CC Sabathia and Jerry Stackhouse.
All of these men have one thing in common. They are all over 30 years old. Why is this important?
Traditionally, the Gay Rights movement leadership may be comprised of an over 30 crowd, but surveys indicate that the greatest support for equal marriage rights lies among younger Americans. With every new generation entering adulthood, the country becomes more accepting of gay rights.
I, for one, would think that today’s college players and younger professional athletes would be the folks leading the way for openly gay players in sports. It seems that I’m only half right, especially in men’s sports.
Academia frequently serves as a catalyst for social change and we’re seeing an increased number of college athletic programs publicly encourage players to come out. However there’s a significant drop off in that sentiment among the pro ranks.
It’s no coincidence that many veteran players, such as those previously mentioned, are freely expressing opinions on a controversial issue. Many of these guys are at the end of their professional careers or are so dominant in their sport that they won’t face any career-threatening or financial consequences.
But what about young players who aren’t yet established in their sport? Just a few months ago, an NFL prospect was asked about his sexuality at the Combine. What kind of message does that send to young players?
There is one player who has managed to break the mold. He’s not a veteran but he has faced years of taunting as a result of sticking up for his beliefs.
Kenneth Faried of the Denver Nuggets is just the kind of young, talented, high-profile athlete needed to encourage other heterosexual athletes of his generation to help open the doors even wider for lesbian and gay teammates.
Raised by two moms, Waudda and Manasin, the 23-year-old Faried has been active in supporting the LGBT community for several years. An impressive rookie season earned Faried respect and a solid reputation heading into this season, his second in the NBA.
Veteran, heterosexual players (and obviously, the gay athletes who have come out over the years, such as Martina Navratilova) have paved the way for Robbie Rogers, Brittney Griner, and now, Jason Collins. But those guys are on the way out, leaving a huge void in the movement. Kenneth Faried is the man to fill that void for his generation. Hopefully by the time his career ends, Faried won’t need a successor because the movement itself will no longer be necessary.
Sports fans often obliterate the boundaries of good taste when supporting their teams. The free, fun-loving nature of the games which we all grew up playing sure seems to have a regressive impact on adults, doesn’t it?
It’s a fine line to walk, but whomever created the billboard below nailed this tightrope act with expert precision.
Complex Magazine posted photos of an electronic billboard in Chicago featuring a rotation of creative images supporting the city’s pro sports teams. Joakim Noah -the Bulls’ most eccentric and interesting player since Dennis Rodman- is shown blasting a grimacing LeBron James with a fire extinguisher.
I’m actually laughing just typing this up right now….The look on LeBron’s face is priceless.
Sure, it was only ONE playoff game in which Noah and the rest of the depleted-yet-not defeated Bulls shocked the defending champs, but the fans and city should savor every single moment they can.
Kudos to whomever created these ads. Aside from a burst of carbon dioxide to the face, the “Noah extinguishes LeBron” image (as well as the pro-Blackhawks billboard) is hilarious without hurting anyone’s feelings.
If anything, the billboard will add fuel to the Heat’s fire heading into Game 2.
Without Luol Deng and Derrick Rose, that billboard might be the last we see of the Bulls putting the Heat on blast.
Tenaciously supporting a minority that so many in the majority have yet to understand takes considerable strength and courage, perhaps in its own way, requiring even more bravery than donning pads and a helmet on Sundays.
Speaking out in favor of marriage equality has put NFL players Chris Kluwe, Brendon Ayanbadejo and Scott Fujita (all heterosexual, in case you were wondering) on a new kind of athletic map, one that spans far beyond the football field. The three veterans of the sport, all California natives, will have their eyes on Washington D.C. Tuesday and Wednesday as the U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments in two cases that could change the course of history for gay people in this country.
With the help of attorney John Dragseth and university law professor Tim Holbrook, the three NFL players filed an Amicus Brief with the court - a document stating one’s position as it relates to a case before the court - in support of marriage equality.
“Basically it’s a way to bring attention to an aspect of the case we think is important to the Court that they might not have otherwise considered,” said Kluwe who used the athlete perspective as the primary focus of the brief.
“Many different entities file amicus briefs in high profile cases, and if they’re cogent and well reasoned, the Court generally takes them into consideration.”
Several athletes (current and former) have signed the brief, hoping to use their names to help push what they see as positive legislation forward.
“The brief shows that historically, many athletes have been powerful agents for social change,” said Fujita, who recently wrote an essay about his views on marriage equality for the New York Times.
“People look to us, whether we like it or not. And that’s why our actions, and how we treat others, and the words we use, carry a lot of weight. We need to set the right example, especially for kids.”
In an age where world famous sports stars (i.e. Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, etc.) keep quiet about their personal and political beliefs, many find the recent surge of athletes coming out in support of the LGBT community and marriage equality to be something new, and surprising.
“Renaissance” would be a more accurate description of the gay rights movement building within the community of current and former professional athletes as the sports world has often been at the forefront of civil rights issues.
Jackie Robinson integrated baseball when he joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, several years before the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown v. Board of Education integrated the country in 1954.
Tommie Smith, John Carlos and Peter Norman stood for racial equality on the medal stand in Mexico City during the 1968 Summer Olympics.
Women gained equal access to play sports in school with the Title IX portion of the Education Amendments of 1972 and here we are, four decades later, where women earn only 74 cents for every dollar earned by men in the workplace.
The NFL’s renaissance men embrace the challenges faced by their predecessors as they become the next generation of athletes to take a stand on social issues.
“Until everyone is accepted and treated equally we will continue to push the envelope toward equality,” said Ayanbadejo, who plans to speak at a marriage equality rally in Washington on Tuesday.
“People know and accept that racism isn’t right. When every one feels the same way about discrimination and the law backs our stance, only then will we be satisfied.”
While Ayanbadejo, Fujita and Kluwe have long been supporters of the LBGT community and marriage equality, their stock soared sky high in 2012, and even ruffled some feathers along the way, thanks to an election year with marriage equality on the ballot in several states.
The broad discussion of constitutional gay rights narrowly trickled down to the sports world Monday as news broke regarding an NFL player who is strongly considering coming out to the public. He would become the first openly gay, active athlete in the history of North American team sports.
It’s clear that a host of fellow athletes would support him, as there are plenty of notable names on the athlete’s brief submitted to the court. But the list is noticeably devoid of the most recognizable sports figures. No LeBron James, Tom Brady, Kobe Bryant, or Sidney Crosby. No Venus or Serena Williams, Rory McIlroy or Derek Jeter.
“It would really help bolster the environment of support and equality we’re trying to promote in the NFL and other pro sports,” Kluwe said of the importance of the biggest names in the business publicly supporting LGBT rights and marriage equality.
“Top athletes are definitely role models for a lot of people, and having their help is invaluable.”
In fairness to the aforementioned, they weren’t necessarily asked to participate. Ayanbadejo did the majority of the recruiting himself on a busy, Super Bowl-winning schedule.
“The first filtering of candidates was done in my head. I targeted my athletes and went for it,” said Ayanbadejo when asked how many “A-list” athletes were asked to join the cause.
Fujita made a few calls as well, witnessing first hand how money and corporate sponsorship can so easily create a serious conflict of interest for celebrities.
“There were a handful that I approached. And it wasn’t that they weren’t with us on issue. Sometimes ‘corporate interests’ weigh in, I think. That’s why I occasionally (half-jokingly) challenge these guys to be the ‘anti-Jordan.’”
Despite those who declined to participate (publicly or privately), Ayanbadejo was encouraged by the progress made by those who were willing to lend their support.
“There really wasn’t any flat out no’s but there was plenty of hesitation. And just as many guys that were hesitant stepped up and affirmative said yes. For me to be fair I would have had to have asked more guys but the overwhelming majority said yes. I would say I was batting around .650.”
That average lines up nicely against the country as a whole, as nearly 60 percent of Americans said they support gay marriage.
The NFL’s renaissance men are hoping that one more majority sides with them as well come June, when the Supreme Court makes its decision on marriage equality.
Hey man, how’s it going? I would like to sugar coat the meaty contents of this letter by first saying congratulations on making it to the Super Bowl, as you and your 49ers teammates have made the city of San Francisco beam with football pride for the first time in many years. That is wonderful.
More importantly, I have a personal favor I’d like to ask of you. Please don’t apologize for your homophobic comments, attempt to rephrase or claim your words were taken out of context.
I’m not sure even the best and brightest of the PR world could find a way to spin this (courtesy of the Mercury News):
“I don’t do the gay guys man,” Culliver said. “I don’t do that. No, we don’t got no gay people on the team, they gotta get up out of here if they do.
“Can’t be with that sweet stuff. Nah … can’t be … in the locker room man. Nah.”
Culliver suggested that homosexual athletes keep their sexuality private until 10 years after they retire.
Apparently, Artie Lange is the new Oprah, getting guys like you to open up about such controversial subjects. Impressive!
Here’s the thing Chris. Personally, I respect your right to freely discuss your opinions, any time, any place. I’m sure the majority of San Franciscans agree, given the Bay Area’s storied history of the peace movement, freedom of speech and gay rights activism.
This is why I implore you not to attempt to color these comments as something other than what they are; the dark truth that homophobia and strong anti-gay views remain deeply rooted in the world of professional sports.
Sure, there are other guys sprinkled throughout pro sports, for instance, your fellow NFL pals Brendon Ayanbadejo, Chris Kluwe and Scott Fujita, who are openly supportive of civil rights in this country, including LGBT rights. But clearly the movement is not yet powerful enough to have impacted you, despite your own team’s efforts to join the cause.
While it was a poor business move to publicly reveal your feelings about gays as a member of a San Francisco-based organization, there is no going back so you may as well resign to moving forward.
Should you apologize for hurting people’s feelings or offending them? That seems fair. You can stick by something you say while feeling bad that others are hurt by it. In a weird and twisted way, I actually respect Lance Armstrong for a non-apology he gave Oprah in their sit-down interview.
Instead of taking the apology bait when Oprah asked him if he felt remorse, Armstrong’s response was, “everybody that gets caught is bummed out they got caught.” Finally, he was honest about something.
Chris, you are strong enough to take the Lance route on this one.
Don’t be like your Super Bowl opponent Terrell Suggs who, after verbally decimating the “arrogant prick” Patriots, received a talking-to from teammate Ray Lewis, and consequently changed his tune to, “people don’t like them because they win,” in hopes of avoiding backlash. That’s weak sauce. Super weak.
Stick to your beliefs. Only if you mean it, say you’re sorry for offending anyone and then keep your mouth shut regarding this issue for the rest of the week.
And don’t worry about being excluded or treated as a leper back home in San Francisco after the Super Bowl. Most of the folks in the Bay are much more accepting than you, so you need not worry. It’s all good. In fact, I bet you’ll be even more popular upon your return, as the locals will surely stop you on the street for a quick chat from time to time, in hopes that maybe, just maybe their open-mindedness might rub off on you.
UPDATE: Well, looks like Chris didn’t read my letter. Bummer.
49ers statement, on behalf of Chris Culliver:
“The derogatory comments I made yesterday were a reflection of thoughts in my head, but they are not how I feel. It has taken me seeing them in print to realize that they are hurtful and ugly. Those discriminating feelings are truly not in my heart. Further, I apologize to those who I have hurt and offended, and I pledge to learn and grow from this experience.”
Public Relations, perception.
Crisis Management, image repair.
Gatekeepers, buffer zone.
The role of a Public Relations team is incredibly important in a time of crisis, and boy, can the job be daunting. It truly does take a village.
Even the staunchest of Lance Armstrong supporters can no longer deny the the fact that the world’s famous cyclist cheated, as the man who was stripped of seven Tour de France titles finally admitted to doping throughout his professional career in a televised interview with Oprah Winfrey.
After losing everything from medals, to sponsors to his position as chairman of the Livestrong Foundation, one might think the unsympathetic and abrasive Armstrong would have little to gain by speaking out.
“From a PR perspective, it was mission accomplished,” according to Lila Brown, the founder of Ella Bee PR, a firm specializing in public relations and social media.
Seriously?? I didn’t exactly come away with that sense of optimism after watching Armstrong’s interview, but perhaps it’s time to frame things differently.
“Lance accomplished what he set out to do and was controlled throughout most of the interview,” says Brown. “He told us what he wanted the public to know and didn’t go any deeper …He answered the questions that he knew were on everyone’s mind and he didn’t try to offer any excuses… He told us just enough to change the narrative on any further media investigation stemming from a large line of witnesses.”
Brown, who represents several athletes, including Olympians Tyler Clary (swimming) and LaShawn Merritt (track & field), is one of many in the PR field tasked with helping shape the public image of their clients.
When someone like Armstrong has an “image crisis,” a team of creative thinkers has to consider all options, playing the role of lawyer to protect the client.
“I will say that I am more at ease when I know my client is telling the truth and we have fully prepared,” Brown says of choosing how much one in her position needs to know.
A PR pro also must wear the hat of psychiatrist in an attempt to understand how the public will feel after digesting the client’s next move.
“That’s why it is important for a client to be honest from the start. It is my job to make sure the story is accurately communicated.”
Just like in an athlete’s day job, practice makes perfect, as repeating situational role play helps ensure the story is communicated in a way deemed “successful” by PR standards.
“I would be concerned with my client speaking off topic and straying off message, but that is why we prepare for tough interviews by anticipating a variety of questions and how to respond,” Brown says of the damage control process Armstrong and other celebrities in his situation are put through. “We tend to understand how the public will accept certain answers. We try everything in our power to be less surprised by anything and know what to expect.”
Brown drew the same conclusion as many of us when Lance opted to speak out. After losing all of his sponsorships, the man needs to find a way to earn a living. But more importantly in Brown’s eyes, Armstrong wants a lesser punishment than a lifetime ban so he can resume competition, a sentiment Armstrong expressed to Winfrey in the two-part interview.
After all of the strategy meetings, focus groups, and carefully crafted blueprints aimed at precisely positioning a client, perhaps the most effective move is indeed the one that is least contrived.
Armstrong needs to, “get back to what made so many people fall in love with him in the first place which is raising awareness for cancer,” says Brown. Speaking about his personal battle with the disease may be the only credible, authentic chip Armstrong has left to play in the eyes of the public.
“His life’s story outside of cycling has touched so many people so he will need to find a new, sincere and unique way to connect with those affected by cancer.”
(To learn more about Lila Brown, and Ella Bee PR, visit http://ellabeepr.com )