Author Archives: andrewhfine
As I sit here in the midst of yet another over-hyped, under delivering college bowl season, I’d like to focus on a postseason issue that often takes a backseat to the “playoff vs BCS” debate – how do we make the entire college bowl system more enjoyable?
Not to sound like an old fuddy duddy – but when I was growing up, the college bowl system was a glorious week and a half of football that culminated with what used to be the best day of the year, New Year’s Day. Of course, that was back when it was permissible to play more than one bowl game at a time, and different networks even competed for the rights. There were also built in rivalries that made the games exciting, the games were based on when fans could travel instead of when it was good for television ratings, and most importantly, you played for a final ranking or pride – which meant that games outside national championship game actually mattered.
Now, the bowl system is a mess. Nobody really cares about any games outside of the BCS Title Game and going to a bowl game is no longer a special occurence, since 50% of all teams in college football are “rewarded” with a bowl game. So how do we fix it? Here are a few suggestions.
1. Condense the Bowl Season
I know that the popular argument is to just restrict the number of bowl games. But given how much money is at stake for the bowl committee, the host city, and the conferences playing in them, that’s just not going to happen. Maybe there will be some natural contraction of bowls that don’t make money, but we’re not going back to an 18 bowl system like we had in 1991. Instead, let’s shorten the bowl season. Right now, the bowl season basically starts 2 weeks after the regular season final games have been played and extends until a week after New Year’s. That’s almost 3 1/2 weeks of bowl season. That’s too long for any fan to pay attention. The minor bowls are barely a blip on anyone’s radar as it is, playing them on December 19th means even less people are watching. The same goes for any bowl game after New Year’s Day – unless its the BCS Title game, nobody cares, or has time to watch. The bowl season should start on December 23rd and other than the BCS Title Game go until January 2nd. Sure it’s a short span of time to cram in a bunch of games, but college football fans are notorious for spending hours in front of the TV watching, why wouldn’t they do that for bowl games too?
2. Create Continuity in the System
One of the reasons nobody pays attention to the bowls any more is because the names keep changing. Or more accurately, the sponsors keep changing. If you want to sponsor a bowl, make a 5 year commitment. That way I won’t be confused when the Big Ten plays in the Dallas Football Classic Bowl in one year and then the TicketCity Bowl next year. Name changes are inevitable, but let’s at least try and create some long term brand value. Along those same lines, let’s keep conferences tied to the same games for extended periods of time – and do our best to keep those tie-ins alive every year. That used to be the norm, but it seems like every year there is a fill-in for a BCS game, or a new conference tie in for the Gator Bowl. If you want to build excitement for bowls, you have to create year to year rivalries that allow teams and conferences to build up animosity. The Big Ten and SEC have some of that with their tie-ins for the Capitol One Bowl, Outback Bowl and Gator Bowl, but there needs to be more of this. Fans should know that just like the Rose Bowl is the Big Ten vs the Pac 12, the Holiday Bowl is the Big 12 vs. the Pac 12 and the Cotton Bowl is the Big 12 vs the SEC. These rivalries used to be played up, now they are just an afterthought.
3. Flashback to New Year’s Day 1991 Part 1
In 1991 there were 18 bowl games – 8 of which were played on New Year’s Day. That meant for college football fanatics like myself, you could kickoff your day with the Hall of Fame Bowl 11 AM, and have back to back games going until 11 PM at night, when the Orange and Sugar Bowls were ending. 12 hours of football, 8 great matchups, and plenty of channel flipping. It made for an incredible day, with multiple television setups and competing games adding to the fun. On New Year’s Day 2010, of the 34(!) bowls, a whopping 5 were played on New Year’s Day. Last year, the addition of another bowl game gave us 6 bowl matchups on New Year’s Day, a step in the right direction in terms of quantity, but not quality. Several of the bowls were sub-par matchups that included a 7-5 Michigan vs 8-4 Mississippi State and a 7-5 Northwestern vs a 7-5 Texas Tech in the TicketCity Bowl. Compare that to 1991, where the only games slotted on New Year’s Day were marquee matchups. New Year’s Day should be reserved for the best games between the best teams. If your bowl puts the #6 Big Ten Team vs. the #7 SEC team, please enjoy December 30th.
4. Flashback to New Year’s Day 1991 Part II
The other reason the bowls were more fun to watch in 1991 is that not only were the marquee games reserved for January 1, but they were actually played on January 1! Ever since ESPN has taken over the bowl system (33 of 35 bowls will be broadcast by ESPN this year), they’ve taken all of the competition out of things by spreading out the games over several days. Instead of a 4 PM kickoff on New Year’s Day of both the Rose Bowl and Fiesta Bowl, followed immediately by the Sugar and Orange Bowls, each game has its own timeslot. Each of the 4 marquee bowls is the only bowl being played at that time. While that’s great for attracting more viewers, it also means that if the game isn’t that competitive, I’m switching to something totally different. The NHL has wisely seized upon this with the NHL Winter Classic – now fans have an option if the Rose Bowl is a blowout. Part of the fun of New Year’s Day is that it was like the Super Bowl of college football – an all day party of games that kept you watching even if you didn’t have a dog in the fight. The 1991 Sugar Bowl matchup between Tennessee and Virginia probably wasn’t must-see TV for me, but since it was on New Year’s Day, I tuned in. I happen to be a Michigan fan, so I’ll absolutely tune in for the Sugar Bowl on January 3rd this year, but the Orange Bowl battle between Clemson and West Virginia will probably only garner as much interest from me as your standard Saturday night ESPN SEC game. I may watch, but I’m not planning my night around it. And I think most fans feel the same way. Instead of spreading the bowls out, why not build excitement for the one day of the year where everybody can watch? You may lose some “viewers” due to channel flipping, but you won’t lose excitement or interest over the bowl games. Plus, now that we live in a Twitter world, if something exciting is happening in your game, fans will know to tune in.
5. Flashback to 1991 Part III
One of the original reasons behind the entire bowl system was to create tourism for certain places around holiday time. Fans could pick their Christmas and New Year’s destinations based on where their favorite team was playing, and in most cases, enjoy a vacation somewhere warm like California or Florida – a great perk for the northern schools. Unfortunately, with the modification of the bowl schedule has scrapped all of that for many fans. With 5 bowl games being played on January 3rd, 4th, 6th, 7th and 8th, you have several games that are very difficult for fans to travel to because of work/school scheduling. Parents just can’t pull their kids out of school these days just because the college team is playing on the Wednesday after New Year’s. Likewise, most people don’t have that flexibility of work to miss an extra couple of days to start the New Year. And the same goes for six games played before December 24th – nobody can travel the week before Christmas or after New Year’s because they have other responsibilities. Yet bowl officials and schools can’t understand why they have trouble selling out their allotment of tickets. The solution is simple – get back to the basics. Plan your bowls around when it is convenient for fans to travel and make the experience user friendly. I guarantee the host cities would benefit from more fans who stick around for a longer period of time, instead of those who fly in the day before (or morning of the game) and fly out the next day. Let the game be a holiday destination, like it was meant to be.
6. Traditional Bowl Matchups
I know I started this post saying that I wasn’t interested in addressing the BCS/Playoff argument. I lied. Sort of. I’m not going to advocate for a playoff system to choose a champion, or even a +1 BCS scenario. Instead, let’s take a step backward, and revert back to the way we used to choose a National Champion – with voting. In truth, its not that different than what we have now. The BCS just gives a game between #1 and #2 that is decided by the voters, and it guarantees that teams that don’t finish the regular season #1 or #2 have no shot at the title. Therefore, we’re told that the only bowl game that matters is the BCS Title Game. That’s unfair to the other bowls, and is frankly, shortsighted.
Let’s say that we reverted to the modified old bowl tie-ins, with the SEC Champ in the Sugar Bowl, the ACC and Big East Champs in the Orange Bowl, the Big 12 Champ in the Fiesta Bowl, and the Big 10 and Pac 12 Champs in the Rose Bowl. Both the Fiesta and Sugar Bowls would have an at-large selection too. The major conferences in the major bowls, with no BCS BS to decide who gets to play where. The 2011 version would look something like this (notice its not that different).
Rose Bowl – #8 Wisconsin vs. #5 Oregon
Orange Bowl – #15 Clemson vs #22 West Virginia
Fiesta Bowl – #3 Oklahoma State vs at-large
Sugar Bowl – #1 LSU vs at-large
The at-larges would clearly be #4 Stanford and #2 Alabama – so you might get the same matchups in the Sugar Bowl (Alabama vs LSU) and the Fiesta Bowl (Stanford vs Oklahoma State) anyways. Or, you could end up with LSU playing Stanford and Oklahoma State vs Alabama. In either instance, if LSU wins, they are the clear #1 team and would win the National Championship. But let’s say we take Scenario B and LSU loses to Stanford and Oklahoma State trounces Alabama. Suddenly Oklahoma State has a strong claim to the title and we’ve made the Fiesta Bowl a lot more compelling.
Sure, the Orange Bowl is still a mediocre matchup, but the other offshoot of this is that since we’re not so focused on just #1 vs. #2, the Rose Bowl regains some of its luster. And in years where there are unbeatens or one loss teams from more than 2 conferences, every major bowl game might be a showcase for a team trying to lay its claim to the national championship. And without so much focus on #1 vs. #2, teams will again take pride in trying to finish as a high as they can. As it stands now, there’s no difference between finishing #3 or #14 in the minds of most fans/teams. That didn’t used to be the case.
The trade off is that we won’t guarantee that #1 will play #2, but its not like the BCS is the perfect system it supposedly is. I’d be happy with scrapping the BCS if it meant that the other bowls actually mattered again. Wouldn’t it be great to spend New Year’s Day monitoring all of the major bowls and wondering whose style points would sway the voters?
I’m not naive enough to think that all of this, or frankly any of this, will happen. But there was a time when college bowl games were exciting, and in some cases were must see TV. There was a time when bowl games were profitable and teams played in full stadiums with thousands of fans making the trip to see the game. And there was a time where I could spend my New Year’s Day with 3 TV’s lined up next to each other, enjoying 8 or 9 games from 11 AM to 11 PM. I’ll still enjoy the 6 games I get to watch today, but I’ll be disappointed knowing how great this day used to be and with a few tweaks, still could be.
After taking a long hiatus, I’m trying something new this week with some Monday Musings on some hot topics in sports and entertainment. Today we’ve got scandal, celebrity, and a little athlete career management.
Penn State, JoePa, Sandusky and Scandal
The biggest scandal of the weekend may be the biggest sports scandal and/or coverup we’ve seen in decades. On Saturday, former Penn State Defensive Coordinator and longtime assistant to legendary Penn State Head Coach Joe Paterno, Gerry Sandusky was arrested on over 40 charges including many involving sex crimes against children. The charges stem from a 15 year period from 1994 to 2009. It’s important to note that Sandusky was a member of the Penn State staff until 1999 when he surprisingly resigned. While all of the charges are heinous, the most shocking story may come from a 2002 incident when then graduate assistant and current Penn State assistant coach Mike McQueary observed Sandusky engaging in a sex act with a young boy (approximately 10-12 years old) in the Penn State lockerroom/showers. McQueary, after consulting with his father, went to Coach Paterno the next day and told him he saw something, but according to Paterno and the Penn State administration, what McQueary told them wasn’t nearly as explicit as what McQueary later told the Grand Jury. Paterno then told his Athletic Director Tim Curley who in turn shared the conversation with his boss and Penn State Vice President Gary Schultz.
And then…..nothing happened. For 9 years, nobody came forward, nobody said a thing, nobody further investigated. Both Schultz and Curley have been charged with perjury based on their testimony during the Grand Jury hearings. And on Sunday night, Curley took a leave of absence and Schultz resigned. But what about living legend Joe Paterno?
His son Scott, a former lawyer himself, claims that JoePa had no obligation to do anything but report what he had heard to Tim Curley because by 2002 Sandusky was no longer a member of Paterno’s staff.
“Unfortunately,” Scott Paterno said, “once that happened, there was really nothing more Joe felt he could do because he did not witness the event. You can’t call the police and say, ‘Somebody tells me they saw somebody else do something.’ That’s hearsay. Police don’t take reports in that manner. Frankly, from the way he understood the process, he passed the information on to the appropriate university official and they said they were taking care of it. That’s really all he could do.”
Scott is right that the testimony of Paterno would have been hearsay in a court of law, but as far as a police investigation goes, I’m sure they would have listened if Coach Paterno had picked up the phone. What the police can investigate has nothing to do with what is admissible in a court room. Forgetting the legality of it all, the bigger issue here is a lack of a moral compass by anyone. If McQueary didn’t properly articulate what he saw, he should be ashamed of himself. If he did, and Joe Paterno and his superiors didn’t aggressively pursue an investigation, they should be ashamed of themselves. And even if he didn’t articulate it, but merely mentioned that he saw inappropriate behavior between Sandusky and a young boy in the Penn State locker room that should have triggered an outpouring of concern for the victim and contempt for Sandusky. Yet nobody in State College felt compelled to pursue this. Not McQueary, not Schultz, not Curley, and perhaps worst of all, not Paterno. Perhaps he was protecting a friend, perhaps he was in denial about what he heard, but his actions were inexcusable. And to now try to hide behind a legal curtain that doesn’t exist is shameful.
Joe Paterno spent over 60 years in college football, developing leaders and molding boys into men. Yet his coverup and/or willful ignorance of this tragic scandal will not only end his football career, it will permanently tarnish his legacy.
Switching gears completely to last week’s news of Kim Kardashian’s filing divorce papers against hubby of 72 days Kris Humphries….
Here’s what I don’t understand – Kim Kardashian has made millions of dollars off of carefully protecting and shaping her brand. Ever since the Kim’s sextape dropped and she became everyone’s favorite “celebrity”, she, with an assist from mother Kris, has done a better job than perhaps anyone in the world of managing her brand. So how could she have so badly miscalculated the public’s response to her divorce just 3 weeks after her “fairytale” wedding aired on E! network? There are a handful of rules you can never break in the court of public opinion, and rule #1 is never lie, or look as though you’ve deceived your fans. Yet this “wedding”, that earned Kim an estimated $17.9 million dollars, did exactly that. The hurried nuptials in time for the final season of her show, the immediate move to New York to film the next season with Kris, and the over the top media circus all reek of attention seeking. And to make matters worse, Kim’s public statement did nothing to quell the rumors of a staged wedding when she refused to even acknowledge why people might think that would be the case. Her love for Kris may have been genuine, but her defensiveness about the nuptials suggested otherwise.
Instead of telling the world that they were crazy to think she would marry for money or media attention, she should have been honest and open. She could have acknowledged that perhaps she and Kris rushed into things, and that they realized they wanted different things. She could have made mention that everyone makes poor judgment calls, and this was just one of those instances. It may not have helped the diehard haters who had made up their mind, but for those fans (consumers) who still wanted to like Kim, it would have made her seem like a real person who is fallible, and not a media seeker who is beyond reproach.
Now we hear Kim went to Minnesota to talk to Kris and try to salvage things. It sounds to me like just another way to get the cover of US Weekly again. At some point Kim is just going to have to be honest with herself, and the world, about what’s really important to her. Love, or fame. Right now every action seems to indicate the latter, but if she gets too callous with the American public’s trust, she’ll end up with neither.
Finally, today marks’ the 20th Anniversary of Magic Johnson’s announcement that he is HIV positive. While many today will comment about the great work Magic has done for AIDS research and awareness, or how far we’ve come in 20 years in our understanding, my take is a little different.
As an 11 year old in East Lansing, Michigan in 1991, the news about Magic was not just a global story, it was a local one. Magic had attended Lansing Everett High School, not far from where I grew up and had attended Michigan State University in East Lansing. As such, as a young kid, I had multiple opportunities to see Magic Johnson in person at basketball camps, MSU games, and local events. And while he was always the star of the Lakers, he was also the local hero. Even as an 11 year old, I immediately understood what the news about Magic meant for him.
Thankfully, we were all wrong, and Magic still continues to live a vibrant and healthy life as a businessman, entrepreneur, educator, broadcaster, and philanthropist.
And what occurred to me is that while Michael Jordan is the global icon for basketball, Magic Johnson should be the global icon for all aspiring athletes. Sure, Magic made some awful mistakes in his youth and wasn’t a perfect human being. And it probably took the HIV wakeup call to help him become the man he is today. But Magic is exactly what every star athlete should aspire to be in the post playing career afterlife. Magic wasn’t prepared for retirement when it hit him, but he adapted when he did. He became an ambassador for a cause, he became a businessman who made hundreds of millions of dollars, he failed as a talk-show host but eventually succeeded as a broadcaster, and he is still involved in the sport he loves, basketball.
Now not every athlete will have the same kind of success that Magic has had off the court. But if you’re an athlete who aspires to do greater things, Magic is the type of guy you’d want to emulate. He’s taken advantage of the opportunities presented to him, and found a way to benefit the people he grew up with by involving his hometown in those business interests. He’s a global ambassador for HIV, yet still does charity work in Lansing. And most importantly, he’s found a way to stay relevant. Many athletes are happy to just walk off of the court into a private life – and if that’s your preference, god bless. But if you’re interested in still finding ways to still be in the spotlight and use your celebrity as a philanthropist, businessman, or even for fun, Magic has provided the blueprint.
After a week hiatus, we’re happy to bring back this week’s Friday Morning Workout. Plenty of things to get your sports mind going on one of the last Summer Friday’s.
Former NFL QB Jim McMahon is part of a group of former players suing the NFL over concussion related injuries
Terrelle Pryor will be allowed to participate in next week’s NFL Supplemental Draft, but will be suspended for five games. Sounds like Roger Goodell wants to be commish of the NFL and the NCAA.
Proof that the only way to spur the economy is more sports. Forbes examines how Boston is growing because of sports.
I’m only linking NASCAR here because of the Michigan ties. Apparently Pure Michigan is sponsoring a race, and its paying off for them.
The Wilpons will be in court today, trying to get at least part of the $1 billion lawsuit against them dismissed. After this week’s earlier ruling by the 2nd Circuit, it doesn’t look promising.
The New Meadowlands Stadium, home of the New York Giants and New York Jets, is going to be known as MetLife Stadium. MetLife was already a cornerstone sponsor for the stadium, paying about $7M a year. The naming rights deal will cost them somewhere in the neighborhood of $20M a year.
For the doctors and Padres fans out there, a sad story of a star prospect forced into early retirement.
It’s probably not a good idea to invest in sports in Denver. Apparently they can’t even support the franchises they have.
Fox and the UFC reached a groundbreaking deal to put UFC on network TV. F/X will have the cable rights. Boxing better get its act together, because MMA is clearly in the driver’s seat right now.
NBA players looking to go to Europe may have hit a roadblock. Apparently the insurance is very expensive.
And in case you were under a rock, make sure to read this incredible story about the rampant NCAA rule breaking occuring at the University of Miami since 2002.
Celebrity and athlete endorsements are without question some of the most useful marketing tools that a brand can use. The way fans idolize their favorite athletes allows brands to capture those positive feelings by using those athletes to endorse their products. With many products that use athlete endorsers, the suggestion that the average person can jump higher or run faster by using a particular product makes the endorsement all the more powerful.
While there are literally hundreds if not thousands of brands that have partnered with athletes over the years, there are several products and campaigns that have stuck with us through the years. These particular brands managed to use their athlete endorsers to not only help sell products at that moment in time, but to
also create a lasting image that garnered positive feelings for that brand long after that commercial or campaign had been shelved.
Today, we’re going to take a look at a handful of those campaigns, and what common themes they utilized to make their ad campaigns iconic, much like their spokesmen.
MEAN JOE GREEN DRINKS COKE
This commercial debuted during the 1980 Super Bowl, and ever since then, it has ended up near the top of every list of the best Super Bowl commercials ever. Besides using an iconic pitchman like Mean Joe Green, the real key here is the juxtaposition of the tough football player and the young generous boy. The message here is pretty strong – the implication is that drinking a Coke can improve anyone’s mood – as Mean Joe becomes a nice guy after drinking the Coke. While the jingle itself isn’t that catchy, the end catchphrase of “Have a Coke and a Smile” works because it’s easy to remember, and fits into everyday conversations. But what really sells this commercial is the young boy’s reaction when Mean Joe goes from hard-ass football player to a giving soul. His face lights up, and we get the secondary catchphrase, “Thanks Mean Joe!” That’s the lasting image from this commercial – and over 30 years later it still gets replayed every February when everyone is talking about Super Bowl commercials. For that, this campaign ranks among the best ever.
TIGER WOODS GOLF – NIKE
At the end of the millennium, no question existed as to who was the best golfer in the world–Tiger Woods. He was in the process of obliterating the course record at the Masters and was already anointed as the one who would pass Jack Nicklaus, even though he had only won a few majors at that point. Nike had launched its entire golf product line by partnering with Woods, and instantly gained credibility in the market. And while that probably would have happened regardless of their ad campaign, one commercial served as the catalyst for Nike Golf, and Tiger Woods.
Unlike the other campaigns on this list, there was no catchy jingle, no catchphrase, nor any additional celebrities. Instead, it consisted of Tiger Woods bouncing a ball on his golf club without it hitting the ground, using the club to toss the ball into the air, and then taking a half golf swing and crushing the ball into the distance. The message was what we already knew; that there were things Tiger Woods could do on a golf course that nobody else was capable of. The key was that you had to see it to believe it, so people made a point to see it.
The other advantage this campaign had over others was that it happened in the internet era. While YouTube wasn’t in place, this ad and campaign still spread like wildfire. And it’s still a popular view today, with almost 1.8 million hits on YouTube. It’s so popular that the bloopers from that commercial shoot have over 1.1 million views. It’s easily the most popular golf ad ever and certainly ranks in the Top 5 of most powerful sports endorsement campaigns ever too.
ITS GOTTA BE THE SHOES – NIKE AIR JORDAN
While some of the other campaigns Michael Jordan has been involved with may have been more memorable, he’s still best known as the original, and really the only, spokesman for Nike’s Air Jordan Brand. Starting in the mid-80’s, Jordan was synonymous with basketball, dunking, and Nike. While there were many great commercials involving Jordan, the signature campaign included Jordan and a loud, scrawny character named Mars Blackmon, played by rising director and actor Spike Lee.
While Jordan dribbled, shot and dunked, Mars asked Jordan what made him the best basketball player in the world. Jordan never gave a definitive answer, while Mars continually asked what became a rhetorical non-question: “It’s gotta be the shoes?!” And even if nobody really believed that Nike’s shoes made Jordan as good as he was, kids playing basketball across America eagerly pointed to their shoes after a made shot or dunk and repeated the phrase.
In the end, the name Mars Blackmon may have been more popular than the phrase itself, as the new Nike ads with Spike became highly anticipated events themselves. But the combination of Jordan, the phrase and Mars Blackmon is something that every male teen and pre-teen of that era remembers.
BE LIKE MIKE – GATORADE
By 1992, there was no bigger star in sports than Michael Jordan. He was far and away the best player in all of basketball. He had already won his 1st NBA Championship, was well on his way to his 2nd and he was about to lead the Dream Team to a Gold Medal in the 1992 Olympics. Anything he endorsed on or off the basketball court was going to turn to gold too. But Gatorade managed to take the icon to another level with its Be Like Mike ad campaign. The visuals of the commercial itself aren’t anything spectacular – just Jordan doing what Jordan does. But the message couldn’t have been any clearer – if you drink Gatorade, you will BE LIKE MIKE.
The catchphrase itself was enough to create a national word of mouth campaign, but what made this campaign one of the best ever was the jingle written by Bernie Pitzel and composed by Ira Antelis and Steve Shafer. As a 13 year old, I memorized the lyrics, which I still know today. I even bought a CD with the song on it. If iTunes had been around back then, it easily would have moved a million units. The jingle was that popular then, and for those individuals who came of age in the early 90’s, it’s still synonymous with Gatorade.
Sometimes I dream
That he is me
You’ve got to see that’s how I dream to be
I dream I move, I dream I groove
If I could Be Like Mike
Again I try
Just need to fly
For just one day if I could
Be that way
I dream I move
I dream I groove
If I could Be Like Mike
*For the full story on how the Be Like Mike campaign came into existence, check out Darren Rovell’s First in Thirst: How Gatorade Turned the Science of Sweat Into a Cultural Phenomenon.
BO KNOWS – NIKE
Much like the Be Like Mike campaign, Nike’s Bo Knows campaign originated in the early 90’s. It centered around the greatest athlete of his time, Bo Jackson – the superhuman running back and baseball player for the Los Angeles Raiders and Kansas City Royals. While there were several different commercials associated with the Bo Knows campaign, the most memorable one was probably the Bo Diddley version, which in fact featured Blues legend Bo Diddley.
The concept was creative yet relatively simple – Bo Jackson is a great football player and baseball player, but what else does he “know”? Utilizing athletes and legends from every other major sport, including the likes of Wayne Gretzky and John McEnroe, Nike used celebrities and the catchphrase “Bo Knows” to create a memorable ad campaign. Certainly the presence of other athletes gave
the campaign credibility, but the often repeated phrase of “Bo Knows” is what
sets this ad apart. The icing on the cake was Bo Diddley telling Bo Jackson, “Bo, you don’t know Diddley!”—a phrase that made its way into the American lexicon for several years. It even served as the title of Bo’s autobiography
“Bo Knows Bo”.
Subsequent versions of this campaign featured a similar theme of Bo Jackson, the super athlete, competing in every sport, and even a cameo from Sonny Bono poking fun at the Bo Knows campaign.
In the end, Bo’s injuries and shortened career took him out of the spotlight sooner than expected. But if you mention his name to anyone of the age range 25-40, they will ineveitably make some mention of Bo Knows.
So as a brand looks to partner with an athlete for a national campaign, what kind of lessons can they learn from the Cokes, Gatorades and Nikes of the world?
The first lesson is to secure A+ talent. With the possible exception of Mean Joe Green, the other athletes used were the absolute best at what they did at the time. If you’re trying to convince people to use your product, you have to be able to convince them that the best athletes in the world use your products. And if you have the budget to bring in other celebs or athletes, do it. They don’t have to be the principal endorser, but they’ll help provide that extra oomph.
The second lesson is to find a catchphrase that resonates outside of the commercial. Be Like Mike and Bo Knows caught on not because of the 30 second spot, but because of the two and three word phrases that kids and adults repeated over and over again. Use the athlete’s name, keep it short, and make it repeatable.
The third lesson is to think bigger than the 30 second spot. 3 of the 5 campaigns on this list weren’t one-off advertisements, but rather a series of ads based around the same theme. Mars Blackmon was a running theme for Nike Air that spanned several years. Bo Knows included several ads that all focused on the Bo Knows themes, but were different variations in their own right. Be Like Mike not only served as a jingle for the Gatorade commercial, but it became its own revenue stream when the company began selling the single.
Finally, be original. For instance, (i) the reason the Be Like Mike ad succeeded was because nobody saw it coming from Gatorade; (ii) an acclaimed director/actor playing a central role in a basketball shoe commercial had never been done before Nike did it; (iii) Tiger Woods bouncing a golf ball on his golf club was an unconventional way to show his skill; (iv) Mean Joe Green was one of the first athletes used in a Super Bowl commercial like that; and (v) Bo Knows was one of the first commercials to use several other athletes and celebrities to sell a product primarily marketed by another athlete.
This week, Pittsburgh Steeler’s running back Rashard Mendenhall sued Hanesbrand, parent company of his ex-sponsor Champion apparel, for $1,000,000 for their termination of his endorsement contract with them. As you may recall, on the night that United States forces killed Osama Bin Laden, Mendenhall used his Twitter account to voice his opinion about the killing of Bin Laden. Specifically, Mendenhall tweeted the following:
“What kind of person celebrates death? It’s amazing how
people can HATE a man they have never even heard speak. We’ve only heard one
In regards to the 9/11 attacks he continued:
“I’m not convinced he was even behind the attacks we have really seen no
evidence to prove it other than the gov telling us.”
Those tweets were condemned by just about everyone. Shortly thereafter, Champion terminated its deal with Mendenhall which went through April 2015, stating that “while we respect Mr. Mendenhall’s right to express sincere thoughts regarding potentially controversial topics, we no longer believe that Mr. Mendenhall can appropriately represent Champion.”
While Mendenhall could have just kept his head down and let this fall by the wayside, he decided to fight for the remainder of his contract. And while its nearly impossible to make a sensible public relations case or defense for Rashard, this suit does raise a very interesting legal issue – can an athlete or celebrity be in breach of a moral turpitude clause of a contract just for voicing an opinion?
Almost every endorsement, appearance, or performance agreement involving a public figure includes a moral turpitude clause that gives the hiring party the option to void the contract if the public figure is in violation of the moral turpitude clause. These clauses are fairly standard in language, and Rashard’s deal with Champion was no different.
According to CNBC’s Darren Rovell, the language in Mendenhall’s deal stated that Champion had the right to terminate Mendenhall if he “commits or is arrested for any crime or becomes involved in any situation or occurrence tending to bring Mendenhall into public disrepute, contempt, scandal or ridicule, or tending to shock, insult or offend the majority of the consuming public.” As far as moral turpitude clauses go, this one is actually fairly broad, as it seems to cover any situation where Mendenhall is involved in a scandal that offends the public, and is not limited to just specific actions by Mendenhall.
However, Mendenhall’s legal team thinks he has a case. According to the suit – “this case involves the core question of whether an athlete employed as a celebrity endorser loses the right to express opinions simply because the company whose products he endorses might disagree with some (but not all) of those opinions”. To be sure, this is a very interesting question moving forward, especially as celebrities have more and more ways and means to express themselves to large groups of people. But upon a closer look at the language of Mendenhall’s contract, it seems like he’s arguing a case that he can’t make for himself.
The language of his contract seems to clearly state that if Mendenhall “….becomes involved in any situation or occurrence tending to bring Mendenhall into public disrepute, contempt, scandal or ridicule, or tending to shock, insult or offend the majority of the consuming public” he will be in violation of his agreement with Champion. Given that his comments were wildly read throughout the internet and on newspapers across the country, and were almost unanimously condemned and ridiculed by both pundits and the public, its pretty obvious that his actions are in breach of his moral turpitude clause. A plain language interpretation yields a poor result for Mendenhall in this fight. His lawyers seem to be focusing on the fact that Champion didn’t agree with what Mendenhall’s opinion was on Bin Laden, and that they can’t terminate him for that. And they may be correct about that. But the language for termination isn’t based on Mendenhall being at odds with the morals of Champion. Its based on him denigrating himself through his actions in such a way that offends the majority of the public, which he clearly did.
The basis of 95% of all moral turpitude clauses are not because celebrities need to live up to the morals the company sets forth. Rather it is to ensure that the company is getting what it is paying for. As a spokesperson for a company, there is an understanding that the reason a company is working with the celebrity is because of the value of that celebrity’s reputation and recommendation in the marketplace. Once a celebrity has tarnished that through their actions, they no longer provide that same value to the company. Both Michael Vick and Tiger Woods lost endorsement contracts for their actions based on this. If your spokesperson is no longer worth the millions of dollars you were paying him to endorse your products, the company needs a way to get out of those deals. That is the purpose of a moral turpitude clause.
Had Mendenhall’s contractual language been more finely tailored to limit his moral turpitude to just specific acts or arrests, and not included the broader language of insulting or offending the majority of the public, he may have had a stronger legal footing. But the language here actually seems to contemplate this specific type of scenario, where Mendenhall’s words or actions insulted and offended the masses. And there seems to be no doubt that is what occurred here.
Beyond the legal case, which he will likely lose, Mendenhall is on a slippery public relations slope. While his comments were big news when he made them, he has largely avoided the spotlight since then. And while this story will probably never be entirely wiped off of his Wikipedia page, the masses were beginning to forget, as they tend to do. Now Mendenhall has gone to great lengths to remind everyone of what he said, and in doing so further tarnished his image. If there was a slam-dunk case for him to win the $1,000,000, it may have been worth it. But since that case is dubious at best, he’s now left without an endorsement deal and is reminding fans and sponsors why he’s not a good person to be doing business with. Mendenhall is putting all of his eggs in this one endorsement basket. As it was, he was unlikely to garner any other national endorsement opportunities. That is even more so the case now that he has taken it to the courts.
It seems like Rashard has gotten some bad advice, because this is a loss in the courtroom, a loss in the court of public opinion, and a loss in the endorsement game.
One of the best things about covering sports media, image, law, and pr is that you never have to search too far for a story. And some days, you get an athlete who gives you a mushball straight down the middle of the plate. This week’s “Weekly Correction” goes to Steeler’s Linebacker James Harrison who decided to take on Commissioner Roger Goodell, his teammates, his opponents, and several broadcasters in an interview in this month’s Men’s Journal.
He then topped off his offensive and over the line quotes by posing for the picture you see above.
For those of you not familiar with James Harrison, this isn’t the first time he and Roger Goodell have butted heads. In fact, this outburst is just another step in an ongoing feud. Harrison came under fire from the Commish in 2010 for several late and violent hits – and was fined a total of $120,000, for which Harrison publicly questioned why he was being singled out.
In this latest interview, Harrison took things a step further by calling Goodell a “crook” and a “puppet” and stating that if “he (Goodell) was on fire and I had to piss him out, I wouldn’t do it”. Harrison went on to call Goodell “stupid”, a “dictator” and even threw in an anti-gay slur for good measure.
But James was just getting started. After going after Goodell, he trashed his own quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, claiming that even though he gets paid like Peyton Manning, he isn’t as good. And that the defense had to bail him out in last year’s Super Bowl for his interceptions.
Since taking on the Commissioner and his own team wasn’t enough, Harrison then went after Steelers rival the New England Patriots, accusing them of using stolen signals to beat the Steelers in the 2004 playoffs. (There is evidence that the Patriots were taping practices of some teams during that season and were using it to their advantage).
He singled out Texans LB Brian Cushing for being “juiced” and called out broadcasters Tedy Bruschi and Rodney Harrison (both former Patriots) for being “clowns”.
I guess James didn’t have time to call out the fans or the owners of the Steelers, because they are pretty much the only people left to criticize who are associated with the NFL.
Now Harrison has always been known as a bit of a hothead, but this is on a whole different level. This wasn’t a spur of the moment postgame quote or two. This was a pre-meditated attack on his team, the commissioner, and the league in general. There really is no excuse for it, and unless Harrison can prove he was misquoted (highly unlikely), it’s going to be nearly impossible for him to walk himself out of this.
An apology might help, but it likely won’t accomplish much since this was pre-meditated in a sit down interview. Although personal apologies and explanations to any teammates he offended are probably in order. And likewise, since the author of the article probably used a tape recorder, Harrison will face an uphill battle claiming that this was merely a misquote – especially when so much of the interview was negative in nature. It’s pretty clear that Harrison said these things.
The only thing Harrison can do now is lay low and hope that the lockout ends this week, which will remove his name from the headlines. With news organizations starving for stories due to the NFL and NBA lockouts, this is sure to get plenty of coverage.
And for those athletes wondering what James Harrison should have done differently, I think it’s pretty obvious – don’t say stupid things, especially when you know you’re on the record.
But…if you’re going to insist on ripping the Commissioner, who has already shown he loves to take large portions of your paycheck, then may I suggest that you don’t also rip the guys who would usually defend you in these situations, your teammates. Don’t look for Ben Roethlisberger or Rashard Mendenhall to lobby on your behalf anytime soon.
But…if you insist on taking on the Commish and your teammates, you probably should avoid angering and disrespecting your opponents. Given that you may have angered enough teammates to earn yourself a one way ticket out of Pittsburgh, you never know when “cheating opponents” may soon become new teammates.
But…if you insist on laying into the Commish, your teammates, and your opponents, it’s probably not a good idea to rip the broadcasters. When the Commish, your teammates, and opponents are all placing your picture on a dartboard, you may not find another team to play on and may be looking to join the broadcast booth sooner than you think. Something tells me the “clowns” you mentioned won’t be eager to give you a glowing recommendation to executives at their respective networks.
But…if you insist on burning bridges with the team, the opponents and the networks, you might want to avoid posing for a picture shirtless holding two handguns. Especially given that NFL Receiver Plaxico Burress just left jail for a gun related incident, and NBA Guard Gilbert Arenas was suspended for the majority of the season for possession of handguns. It’s pretty clear where the league stands on guns, James, and it is not exactly enthusiastically supportive.
I’m not sure there is a way for Harrison to spin this into anything positive. The only remedy is to keep his mouth shut and hope it goes away.
Welcome to this week’s edition of Weekly Correction, where we highlight an athlete who would have benefited by consulting our website prior to painfully stumbling before either the media, a professional team or college program, a professional league, an officiating crew, and/or similar individuals and entities.
This week’s nominee for a weekly correction is former New York Giants football player and Super Bowl XLII hero David Tyree. As you’ll recall, Tyree is most famous for this spectacular catch that most Giants fans claim is an act of divine intervention.
David has taken his association with divinity one step further this week as he has publicly come out against the same-sex marriage bill currently under consideration in the New York State Legislature.
“I always knew that God had a hand enabling me to make that catch, with one hand on the side of my head. That was something I couldn’t do with my own abilities. Perhaps God orchestrated that play to give me a platform for what I’m doing here today: To urge political leaders all over our nation to reject same-sex marriage and to stand up for traditional marriage, which is truly the backbone of our civilization.”
His specific comments on the gay-marriage bill were as follows:
“What I know will happen if this does come forth is this will be the beginning of our country sliding toward, it is a strong word, but anarchy. The moment we have, if you trace back even to other cultures, other countries, that will be the moment where our society in itself loses its grip with what’s right.”
“It’s about what’s right. It’s about how can marriage be marriage for thousands of years and now all of the sudden, because a minority, an influential minority, has a push or an agenda and totally reshapes something that was not founded in our country, not founded by man, it is something that is holy and sacred. I think there is nothing more honorable, worth fighting for, especially if we really care about our future generations.”
“This is what I do know, you can’t teach something that you don’t have. So two men will never be able to show a woman how to be a woman. And that’s just simple. That’s just for a lack of better terms, common sense.”
“Marriage is one of those things that is the backbone of society. So if you redefine it, it changes the way we educate our children, it changes the perception of what is good, what is right, what is just.”
And finally, in a New York Daily News follow up article, when asked if he’d give up the Super Bowl to stop gay marriage, Tyree said: “Honestly, I probably would.”
Tyree firsts suggests that same-sex marriage will lead to anarchy. While he is certainly entitled to his opinion, same-sex marriage is legal in five states and the District of Columbia, not to mention several foreign countries. And to my knowledge, all of those states and countries still have perfectly functioning governments.
Tyree then asserts that “marriage has been marriage for thousands of years”. While that may be true from a religious perspective, from a government perspective, the oldest that marriage can be is 235 years. Since we’re talking about a legal process and not a religious one, Tyree’s invocation of marriage in the religious sense further undermines his argument. It shows he doesn’t really know all the issues at hand in this arena.
As Tyree continues, his argument continues to weaken. His belief that two men can’t show a woman how to be a woman isn’t an about marriage. That’s an argument about procreation, or same-sex adoption. While offspring are often a part of marriage, in many cases, for both heterosexual and homosexual couples, they are not. If you’re keeping track at home, Tyree is 0-3.
At this point his arguments are merely weak, but for good measure Tyree steps off the ledge into the land of hypocrisy. He states that “Marriage is one of those things that is the backbone of society”, a popular belief by many. Sadly, it’s not something Tyree must have believed in that much, as he had one child out-of-wedlock, and another was conceived before he married his current wife. This “backbone of society” clearly didn’t apply to him until it was convenient for him to use it in his argument.
And to top off the hypocrisy, Tyree decided to stick his nose into a matter that actually doesn’t concern him at all. You see Tyree is a lifelong New Jersey resident. Apparently the fact that the Giants claim to hail from New York (despite also playing in New Jersey), gave Tyree license to speak to Giants fans and New Yorker’s about a same-sex marriage bill. That would be like me trying to tell Connecticut what speeding laws they should make because I drive through it on my way to Massachusetts.
And finally, Tyree couldn’t leave well enough alone. He had to twist the knife deeper for Giants fans who support same-sex marriage (and there are plenty) by offering that he’d trade in his Super Bowl catch and win in order to block same-sex marriage.
So where did Tyree go wrong?
First, he spoke without having all of the facts, or choosing to ignore them. If you’re going to step out on the ledge, at least make sure you’re stepping on a sturdy ledge. With the comments Tyree made, its clear he spoke from the heart, not from the brain. It’s an admirable approach, but not a smart one.
Second, he went off topic. If there is an issue you care about, then stay focused on that issue. Otherwise it gives your detractors a chance to move the conversation away from your point.
Third, he contradicted his own lifestyle. This is probably the biggest no-no of all. Much like the politician who advocates a sin free lifestyle who gets caught with a hooker, you can’t preach about something that you yourself don’t practice. Tyree has no credibility to talk about the sanctity of marriage given his own situation.
Fourth, he got involved in a fight that was none of his business. I know that many people will claim that same-sex marriage is a national issue, and that Tyree isn’t the first person from outside New York to sound off on it. But the bottom line is that he’s not a New York resident, and if he really believes New York will go to anarchy if it allows same-sex marriage, then he’s free to living or visiting New York. He can even go to Giants games without having to step inside the state.
And Fifth, and perhaps the most important issue of all, Tyree touched the third rail of celebrity – politics AND religion. There are plenty of people who do agree with David Tyree, but there are equally as many, if not more in a state like New York, who disagree with him. It was bad enough that he openly alienated a portion of the fan base by speaking out so strongly about a topic that is incredibly popular in New York right now, but he purposely connected it to his crowning achievement by saying he would trade in his catch to stop same-sex marriage. In one comment he took his biggest asset and turned it into his biggest liability.
Due to his Super Bowl heroics, David Tyree was a hero among Giants fans. He could have spent the next 15 years making personal appearances, signing autographs, even giving speeches on seizing the moment. It could have been incredibly lucrative for him. And although he’s a former pro athlete, I’m guessing that given his limited NFL career, he wouldn’t have minded the extra income. Now that revenue stream is in serious jeopardy. While some fans will still pay for those appearances, autographs and speeches, there are many who will not. In short, he’s hurt his long-term marketability. Maybe he didn’t care about that, but if he did, even a little bit, this was the wrong approach to take.
Ultimately, there were ways Tyree could have handled this better as an opponent of same-sex marriage. Avoiding hypocrisy, stocking up on facts and statistics, and focusing on the realistic ramifications are all things that could have at least allowed Tyree to come across as a concerned citizen voicing an opinion. His approach involved none of those tactics. But in truth, the best thing he could have done was keep his mouth shut. He’s getting more publicity than he has since the week after he made that historic catch in the Super Bowl, but for all the wrong reasons.
For Tyree, there is no going back on this, because he’s made it clear this is what he believes. And there is no way to suggest this was just a bad moment or a quote taken out of context. He’s going to have to live with this one. Hopefully he’s okay with that.
It’s no secret that social media, and in particular Twitter, are a great way for athletes and celebrities to connect with fans, promote their work, and be a voice for brands looking for exposure. Under the right circumstances, Twitter can a powerful tool that athletes can use to build their media brand and create an audience. But what’s becoming increasingly apparent is that Twitter is also a dangerous weapon that keeps agents, managers, team presidents and publicists up at night.
One needs to look no further than Rashard Mendenhall, Gilbert Arenas, and of course most recently, Congressman Anthony Weiner, to see how under the wrong circumstances, Twitter can go from asset to disaster. In Rashard Mendhall’s case, some poorly timed and worded tweets on a hot button issue cost him an endorsement deal with Champion. Gilbert Arenas’ decision to live tweet about a bad date he was on will probably end up with a check being written to the NBA league office. And Anthony Weiner, though not an athlete, is the perfect example of what can happen if you don’t probably understand the permanence of what you put into cyberspace. As more and more celebrities, personalities and athletes look to Twitter to build their brand and reach fans, it’s inevitable that we will see more scandals. It’s important that they know how to properly use the medium to their advantage, and what to avoid so they can stay out of Twitter jail.
Here are just a few DOs and DON’Ts that every athlete should consider the next time they choose to express themselves in 140 characters or less.
1. Do engage with your followers. Don’t get dragged into wars of words.
Engaging with fans is the #1 reason why every athlete should be on Twitter. The ability to easily connect with fans is a great way to create an off the field, ice or court persona and to let your fans know what really interests you outside of your sport. Tweeting back and forth with fans is a great way to let them know what you’re up to, and learn more about how they feel about you and your team. However, it is very important to remember that not all people will have nice things to say. The ability to be anonymous means many “fans” will use Twitter as a chance to say some awful things about you. The only thing you can do is IGNORE IT! Getting into a battle of words over Twitter is a path you never want to take. You’ll never win, and you only risk hurting your own image. In short, respond to the positive and ignore the negative.
2. Do share your outside interests. Don’t talk about politics, religion or other sensitive topics
As Rashard Mendenhall recently demonstrated, one or two mis-tweets on hot-button subjects can have very real ramifications. A few poorly worded tweets about Osama Bin Laden’s death ended up costing Rashard an endorsement deal. Therefore, its important to stay away from potentially controversial topics like politics and religion. There is no upside in making your feelings known on these subjects, and the only possible result is that you alienate fans or sponsors. Even if your intentions are pure, it’s tough to properly express yourself in 140 characters, and things often get misunderstood. Instead, use Twitter as an opportunity to let your fans know about what interests you outside of your sport or field.
3. Do engage with your fellow athletes and friends. Don’t use Twitter for your personal conversations
One of the great things about Twitter is watching athletes and celebrities engage with each other. The tweets back and forth are often humorous and entertaining, and often give us a glimpse into your personal life. But it’s important to make sure the conversation doesn’t become too personal. Cracking jokes about what happened in the locker room is great. Revealing personal information about whereabouts or plans is not a good idea. And just like in real life, sometimes a joke or trash talk can go too far – be careful not to cross that line on Twitter too.
4. Do get involved in contests and giveaways. Don’t fail to deliver on the promises you make
I love to see an athlete engage fans by participating in a giveaway on Twitter. It’s a great way to show fans that you care and it helps build a following. But if you’re going to give something a way (a jersey, picture, tickets, etc.) make sure you can deliver on your promise! All the goodwill you created by creating a contest or giveaway can be washed away in an instant if you fail to live up to your promises. And if you’re giving away an experience that involves coordinating with a location or other people (restaurants, your team, movie theaters, etc.), make sure to clear everything with them first!
5. Do use Twitter as a way to develop relationships with people in other industries you want to know. Don’t continue to build the relationship publicly on Twitter
Just like fans use Twitter to connect with their favorite athletes, Twitter can be a way for you to connect with people in other industries that you want to know. If you’re looking to branch out into music, television, marketing, finances, real estate etc., Twitter is a great way to meet people in these fields. But remember, Twitter is a public forum, so whatever you say can be read by millions of people. And once you’ve established contact, take the conversation offline. It’s nobody else’s business what you’re doing to build business opportunities outside of your own industry.
6. Do use pictures and videos as a way to build your following. Don’t Tweet anything you wouldn’t feel comfortable showing your parents or children
Hearing what an athlete has to say on Twitter is great, experiencing it through video or pictures is even better. Uploading videos and pictures are a great way to expand your Twitter following, and your fans will love to see what you’re up to at that moment. But always remember that once you’ve tweeted something, you can’t get it back. A picture of you at a strip club, or a video of you drunk will live on the internet forever, so think twice before you send something into the Twitterverse. And if you need a reminder, just Google Anthony Weiner and see what happens when a Twitpic goes wrong.
7. Do Tweet about products and services you enjoy using. Don’t trash those products or services you don’t like
Even if you’re not at the point where you are getting paid to endorse for companies on Twitter, it doesn’t mean you can’t tweet about or at products you like. It’s a great way to get on their radar for future endorsement opportunities. If they have a smart pr/marketing team running their Twitter account, they’ll take notice of who you are and hopefully try to work out a deal for some publicity. At the very least, you may get some free products! However, be very careful when trashing products you don’t like. Many of these companies sponsor teams, radio stations, and television networks. One critical tweet can sour a relationship, and you never know when you may need that brand in your corner.
8. Do link to articles, tweets and pictures you like. Don’t fill your timeline with junk
The reason people follow you on Twitter is because they want to know what you’re interested in. If you see an article you enjoyed, a video you liked, or a tweet you found funny, you should share it with your followers. However, nobody wants to follow someone who fills their timeline with tweets, articles, and pictures all the time. It’s better to choose which things are most interesting to you and include those in your tweets. You’ll also find that more people pay attention to what you have to say and share when you’re selective with your links and thoughts.
9. Do follow others. Don’t follow too many
The Twitter experience for an athlete or a celebrity is different from that of most users since most public personalities only use Twitter to build their own audience. But Twitter is a great way to educate yourself on a variety of topics, and stay up to date on breaking news. The only way you can do that is to follow those whose opinions and ideas are important to you. Like any Twitter user, if you choose to follow too many people, or the wrong people, your timeline will be tough to manage and you won’t be able to focus on the information that is important to you. Instead, find make it a point to see who other people you respect are following, and do the same. Chances are you’ll learn something.
10. Do use Twitter as a creative outlet to express yourself. DO remember it is permanent
The most important thing to remember when using Twitter is that it is permanent. So permanent that the Library of Congress actually catalogs every tweet. So whether you’re interacting with fans, uploading a video or picture, or talking about your favorite restaurant, ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS, remember that once you hit send, you can’t take it back. Even though a quick deletion may result in the removal of the tweet from your news feed, if its controversial, you can bet that one of your followers will have already made a screen grab of the tweet and forwarded it to a well read blog. It happens every time. So make sure you’re not offending anyone, not attaching the wrong video or picture, and are properly replying, retweeting, or using a direct message (if appropriate). If you don’t make sure, you can be certain that the internet will let you know very quickly.
It’s been almost 11 months since Lebron James made his ill-fated “decision” on national television where he broke the hearts of Cleveland, disgusted most die-hard NBA fans, and forever put an asterisk on his legacy. While many, including Lebron apparently, thought those sentiments would just blow over eventually, clearly they have not. With his team just two wins away from the NBA title one might expect that much of the anger and hatred towards the King would have subsided. But if Twitter posts, Q ratings, and sports talk radio are the barometers, there’s just as much hatred for Lebron as there was last July, perhaps even more. That’s unusual for an athlete who is the best in his sport who is playing an integral role in his teams’ path to the championship. So what is he doing wrong? And can he fix it?
Without question, the taste of The Decision still does not sit well with most fans outside of South Florida. Although the self aggrandizing hour long charade on ESPN and the spurning of Cleveland garnered much of the headlines, it wouldn’t have all been so objectionable had we really believed that there was a “Decision” to be made. Brett Favre has had more press conferences than the President and contrary to popular belief, Lebron wasn’t the first guy to leave a team for a chance to win a title – Shaq did the same thing when he left Orlando for LA. What still stings is the fact that we as fans were duped into thinking that Lebron actually considered the Bulls, the Knicks or staying in Cleveland. As more reports came out that it was clear Lebron, Wade and Bosh put this in motion almost two years prior, we as fans felt ridiculous for spending so much time and energy on the Lebron sweepstakes. It’s one thing to pull a fast one on other owners, but heaven help the athlete or celebrity who purposely misleads the public.
Worse, while Lebron has admitted that The Decision was a mistake, he still hasn’t made a full mea culpa. While it might be a case of too little too late, a public apology for leading fans on and acknowledging what we all know – that he and Wade and Bosh were teaming up no matter what – would go a long way to repairing his image.
ON COURT ANTICS
But it’s not just the decision that irks many about Lebron. His on the court gloating and preening do not resonate with a generation of fans that I grew up with. As a Michigan native, my idols growing up were Barry Sanders, Steve Yzerman and Joe Dumars – guys who always looked like they had been there before, and never would have considered showing up an opponent publicly. Now I’m not naïve enough to think that sports still operate the way they did in the 80’s and 90’s – celebrations, trash talk, etc. are all part of the game. But there is something that doesn’t sit right with the best player in the world (and let’s be clear, that’s what Lebron is), celebrating like he’s the 12th guy on a college basketball team who scored his first point on an alley-oop. When you’re as good as Lebron is, EVERYTHING you do on the court should be expected. I’m not saying he shouldn’t celebrate the big moments, but let’s make sure they are the big moments. A last second 3 pointer to close-out a 7 game series counts; a breakaway dunk to extend a lead to 12 does not. Part of Jordan’s greatness is that he always expected to make the shot, be the guy, and win the game. And while he certainly celebrated when he won, he knew when it mattered and when it didn’t. Lebron still doesn’t get what’s worth celebrating. And if you need any evidence, the way in which he acted after the Heat took out the Celtics in the second round is a perfect example.
While we’re on the topic of Lebron’s on-court demeanor, I’d like to remind Lebron that he is capable of fouling another player, getting a shot blocked without being fouled, and traveling. From the way he responds when a ref doesn’t give him the call he likes, you’d think they’d slept with his mother (too soon?). Lebron’s incredulous response to almost every whistle that doesn’t go his way is another reason nobody north of Fort Lauderdale is rooting for him. I’m not saying Lebron shouldn’t get the star treatment when it comes to calls – that’s par for the course when it comes to the NBA. And he has every right to work the refs from time to time. But every time a call goes against Lebron, you can be sure that the next shot on-camera will be Lebron with his hands on his head, a confused look on his face, and a half smile/half scowl hidden by his mouth-guard. Even the best players make mistakes, but from watching Lebron you’d never think he is fallible. All eyes are going to be on Lebron no matter what, he doesn’t need to do things to draw extra attention to himself, especially when he’s acting like a pouting teenager.
WE NEED A MOMENT
When an athlete makes the leap from great to immortal, it usually involves a signature moment that is seared into our minds for eternity. Those moments usually lead to championships, and together, they create a memory. And even if that player is unlikeable as a person, if the moment is awe-inspiring, we will let our grudge go to acknowledge what has been accomplished. When it comes to basketball, Jordan had his hand changing layup over the Lakers and his shoulder shrug against the Blazers, Magic had his baby hook, and Bird had his steal. Lebron had his 48 point game to take out the Pistons in the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals, but without the title, it didn’t make the leap to iconic status. Maybe it’s a last second jumper, or an incredible 4th quarter outburst, but Lebron needs to find his moment en route to a championship. Do that and even his most ardent critics will have to be silenced, and may even be forced to sing his praises.
LET YOUR GUARD DOWN
If Lebron is fortunate enough to have his “moment” this week or next, let’s hope he follows it by letting us peak behind the curtain and see the real Lebron, instead of the protected image he’s had since he was the anointed one at age 16. Remember, Lebron was the first high school star that garnered real television ratings while he was still in high school, and unlike most young phenoms, he’s actually lived up to the hype. But the downside to that is that Lebron has been in the spotlight since he was a junior in high school. He’s learned to carefully craft an image of who he is, or more likely, who he thinks he should be. He is notorious for his inner circle of friends from Akron who both manage his life and his career. They protect him, promote him, and surround him. And sadly, that’s led to a corporate image of an athlete we don’t really know. Almost everything about Lebron seems contrived or staged, and nothing seems genuine. In the age of media access we live in, it’s almost shocking that nobody really knows the real Lebron. I can’t entirely blame him, as I’m sure he learned at a young age that his talents were special, and that he needed to be concerned about people looking to take advantage of him. But that wall he puts up to protect himself also isolates him from the fans and the media. He’s never standoffish, but he rarely seems friendly or willing to share what he really thinks. Lebron doesn’t have to be an open book, but even if people don’t agree with what you think, they’ll like you more if you have the guts to say it, and defend it. Instead of telling people what he thinks they want to hear, Lebron needs to take down his wall and tell the world what he really thinks.
If the title doesn’t happen for him this year, it will happen for him soon. He’s too good for it not to. But winning a title by itself won’t give him the image he wants, and it won’t make people like him. That’s going to take some work on the court, and off. If Lebron is willing to make some fundamental changes to his approach, he can have it all. Otherwise, he may end up being the best player in the league with the least amount of fans.