Sports Legal Crisis Communications

May 22, 2010



Here’s a link to a blog just posted on 10 PR nightmares for Sports Agents –

The article notes that cleaning up the mess from an athlete’s crime is no easy feat but unfortunately offers little practical guidance on how to actually do it. Nevertheless, it does serve as a reminder that even sports superstars are capable of committing such crimes and that those who defend them and their brand must be properly prepared.

On that note, I’m presently in Phoenix, Arizona attending the Sports Lawyers Association 36th Annual Conference and a highlight thus far was a brilliant session on counseling an athlete in a crisis situation.

The panel was moderated by Wm. David Cornwell, Sr. and included Keven J. Davis, Ann Walker Marchant, and Richard M. Nichols who variously have represented Marion Jones, Tonya Harding, Serena Williams, Ben Roethlisberger, and others.

Herewith are some of the take-aways:

  1. The goals of a sports lawyer in such a situation are to mount a legal defense strategy and to maintain the athlete’s brand equity – or at least to minimize the equity loss.
  2. Ensure that the crisis communications strategy integrates and wraps around legal strategy. Lawyers and media relations personnel must check one another’s work so the athlete’s team has a greater chance to win in both the court of law and the court of public opinion.
  3. Don’t box yourself in. Always give your client enough legal bandwidth in which to maneuver.
  4. Prepare for the inevitable.
  5. Get ahead of the curve and get ahead of the story. Do not allow others to frame the situation.
  6. Whenever possible, put the athlete in front of the camera and in the centre of the story. It’s harder for the public to cast stones at someone who is willing to put themselves front and centre. Do not just have the athlete hide behind the issuance of press releases.
  7. Keep the message simple and do not deviate from the message.
  8. When confronted with gross misinformation, it is a balancing act between wanting to correct it and giving the story legs by dignifying it with a response. Sometimes the misinformation is given credibility by a response and by doing so the story moves from the blogosphere to the mainstream media. Other times, you may not have a choice.
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