Category Archives: Sports

Where the Regulation of Violence in Sports Will Inevitably Extend: The Stands & Outside the Stadium/Arena

The University of Kentucky fans "celebrate" the Wildcats' Final Four win over Louisville to gain a spot in the National Title game.

The professional and college sports industries have without question reached milestones with respect to revenue generation over the past decade.  Both the National Football League and the National Basketball Association experienced pre-season lockouts and subsequent consuming negotiation sessions with their respective players’ unions concerning profit sharing.  In 2010, the NCAA signed a monumental $10.8 billion contract with CBS Corporation and Time Warner Inc.’s Turner Broadcasting for the media rights to its beloved Men’s Division I College Basketball Tournament, known by most as March Madness.

It goes without saying that fans are the impetus behind such revenue growth.  Whether a country and its citizens are facing a recession—even bankruptcy—or marvelous economic times, avid followers and fans of professional and college sports teams will pay hard-earned money for the pleasure drawn from watching talented athletes perform for up to three hours on the field, court or ice.  Fans will do so by attending such events, watching them at bars/restaurants, or through the purchase of oversized, flat-screen televisions for home.  David Levy, the President of Turner Sports, acknowledged in signing the March Madness media contract with the NCAA that “the tournament’s popularity and success [had outgrown] the ability for one network to provide all the coverage fans are looking for.”  Similarly, CBS News and Sports President Sean McManus recognized, “the opportunity for viewers to watch whatever game they want to on up to four different networks has to result in more eyeballs, more gross rating points and more exposure for the tournament, thereby creating much more value for the advertisers.”

I think it’s awesome that fans of professional and college sports teams continue to use this source of entertainment as an escape from the struggles facing the lives of individuals on a daily basis in many countries around the globe, including financial turmoil, disease, death and general unhappiness.  However, over the same decade that the sports industry has experienced rapid revenue growth and increased popularity, the fan experience at and following sporting events has become more violent, tragic and unpleasant.  A problem clearly exists that neither the professional leagues, the NCAA Directors nor the athletes have sufficiently addressed, or are even equipped to address.

Indeed, the European professional soccer leagues have essentially condoned fan violence since their creation.  The Philadelphia Eagles’ late Veterans Stadium maintained holding cells to accommodate unruly fans.  These facts represent proof that the sports industry has accepted violence as part of the overall fan experience for quite some time.  For instance, in 2004, Lakers forward Ron Artest—or as legal documents now refer to him, Metta World Peace—climbed into the stands as an Indiana Pacer at The Palace of Auburn hills to exchange punches with a few rambunctious fans. In 2010, I attended a New York Jets game in New York as an Atlanta Falcons fan and was threatened by four Jets fans following the Falcons’ last minute defeat of the Jets.  Fortunately, violence never ensued, though not as a result of action taken by stadium security.  In 2011, a San Francisco Giants fan experienced the wrath of Dodger Stadium when several Dodger fans beat him almost to the point of death.  And just a few weeks ago, University of Kentucky basketball fans nearly burned down and destroyed Lexington, KY, following the Wildcats’ Final Four win over state rival Louisville to gain a spot in the National Title game.

However, what has either been condoned or overlooked by these leagues and the NCAA will inevitably draw a divide between fans, compelling those who are visiting the home stadium or establishment (e.g., sports bar) of an opposing team to discontinue their participation.  This decreased fan participation and interest will inevitably compel revenue to decline for the professional sports leagues, the NCAA, media outlets and corporate partners and sponsors.  Should violence and unpleasant behavior by fans persist at or following sporting events, how could it not have a domino impact on the sports industry?

So, where should we as fans and professionals in the industry place blame and seek assistance in preventing this evolving problem?  First and foremost, responsibility should be placed on the individuals who are involved in such inappropriate behavior.  Fans have progressively turned their allegiance to sports teams into something personal.  However, sustaining a loss through a favorite team is not analogous to losing a love one.  Fans must realize that their personal lives will continue unscathed, so long as they categorize sporting events as entertainment and nothing more.  This point allows me to transition to my second and final position.  The professional sports leagues, the NCAA, the athletes, the media outlets and the corporate partners and sponsors must take on the responsibility of reminding fans of this fact.  Indeed, most professional sporting venues stop serving alcohol at a certain point during team play.  College venues refuse to serve alcohol altogether.  Great, by taking alcohol out of the picture, these entities and individuals have indirectly implied to the fans that they should behave responsibly.  However, I’m asking—maybe even pleading to—these same entities and individuals to make a direct and blatant statement to the fans: “Stop the violence and inappropriate behavior!”  The NFL has already done so much to prevent violence on the field in an effort to protect its brand and revenue stream.  Take the next step and prevent it from occurring in the stands and outside the stadium.

Hey guys, it’s your money, not mine, that’s being placed on the line.

Common Themes of the Best Athlete Endorsed Brand Campaigns

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

Like Mike

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

Like Mike

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.

Why We Still Hate Lebron

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?

THE DECISION

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.

McNabb’s Inability To Defend The Jab

Bernard Hopkins, winner by knockout!

Donovan McNabb, down for the count!

Bernard Hopkins is ignorant, plain and simple.  He also is more than willing to express his ignorance whenever the media provides him an opportunity to do so.   Based on my observation, Hopkins does not behave ignorantly solely to promote his boxing career.  His win-loss record sufficiently speaks for and promotes itself.  Rather, Hopkins’ ignorance is the direct result of what most people would not hypothesize: a sheltered upbringing.  Bernard Hopkins (aka “the black rocky”) experienced the first nine years of his life as one of eight children in a household residing in Northern Philadelphia’s Raymond Rosen Project Complex.  By age 22, Hopkins had been stabbed three times, committed several muggings, and served five years in prison following his commission of nine felonies.  During his time in the penitentiary, Hopkins witnessed an inordinate amount of violence and thus acknowledges that his tumultuous childhood and young adulthood made him who he is today––a ruthless fighter, who has consistently performed at an extreme level of intensity, even at the ripe age of forty-six.

Considering that Hopkins experienced such an atypical childhood and early adulthood surrounded by violence, poverty, and fellow prisoners, I admire him for becoming who he is today—a successful lightweight and middle weight fighter with 52 wins (34 by knockout).   Most recently on May 21, 2011 (at age 46), Hopkins defeated 28 year old Jean Pascal to capture the WBC, IBO and The Ring Light Heavyweight belts, dethroning George Foreman as the oldest man to win a major title.  Hopkins is a husband.  He is a father.  Simply put, Hopkins has come a long way in his forty-six years on earth.

Nonetheless, on May 11, 2011, possibly as a way of promoting his upcoming fight with Pascal, Hopkins—a loyal Eagles fan—verbally lambasted former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb through a scathing rant to the Philadelphia Inquirer.  While acknowledging that McNabb had a privileged childhood, particularly in comparison to his own, Hopkins accused McNabb of not being “black enough or tough enough, at least compared with, say, himself, Michael Vick and Terrell Owens.”  Hopkins clarified to the Inquirer that “Vick and Owens remained true to their roots, McNabb did not.”   Hopkins further compared McNabb’s role with the Eagles as that of a house-slave who was spared from having to work in the field: “McNabb is the guy in the house, while everybody else is on the field.  He’s the one who got the extra coat.  The extra servings…  He thought he was one of them.”  With respect to McNabb’s prior comments on HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel,” where he stated it is tough being a black quarterback, Hopkins opined, “He goes on HBO and talks about [being] black.  He was right, but was the wrong messenger…  [he doesn’t] represent that.”  Finally, Hopkins criticized McNabb’s interaction with the Eagles’ front office, stating, “T.O. got [into] the boardroom and saw the way they talked to McNabb.  Come from where he [comes from] – that’s strange to some white people, when a black man speaks…  [W]hen T.O. walks in the boardroom with the Eagles suits, he’s like, what the heck? I aint used to this language.  I’m used to speaking up.”  See Marcus Hayes, Hopkins Still Thinking about McNabb, Philly.com, May 11, 2011.

Now, If based on the aforementioned statements you continue to question whether Bernard Hopkins is ignorant, I can share with you the number to a great therapist and sensitivity coach who would welcome you with open arms.  As a fellow African American, it is quite simple for me to wrap my hands around Hopkins’ rant, which was both ignorant and inaccurate.  In fact, Hopkins created a crystal clear characterization of what he considers an African American male in America to represent (the “Hopkins’ Traits”):

1)   Someone who is tough, primarily as a result of his experiences in the “streets”;

2)   Someone who doesn’t relish his interaction with corporate white America;

3)   Someone who is incapable of fully understanding or speaking the language of corporate white America; and

4)   Someone who is confrontational.

But, you know what?  I can’t blame Bernard Hopkins for his ignorance or for the statements that he made about Donovan McNabb.  It is not his fault that he’s made these inaccurate assumptions about the average African American male.  In the world that Hopkins grew up, an African American male represented, among other things, the four abovementioned traits.  Moreover, during the small amount of time that Hopkins has been a wealthy boxer, he likely has not encountered the necessary experiences to contradict these erroneous assumptions.  He has not been exposed to or met enough successful, professional African American males who make a living outside the realm of sports, entertainment, and crime.  He also likely has not been mentored by individuals who know that African American males are as professionally, fiscally, and socially diverse as any other race.  Hopkins’ perception clearly embodies what he has been exposed to.  As a result, I SLAM my enormous hammer of criticism on Donovan McNabb—the one person who you likely didn’t foresee me criticizing in this article.

* * *

In stark contrast to Bernard Hopkins, Donovan McNabb spent the first eight years of his life in a somewhat dicey part of the South Side of Chicago, before moving with his family at age eight to a smaller and more family oriented, blue-collar neighborhood in the southern Chicago suburb of Dolton.  The McNabbs were the first black family to join their neighborhood block, which came as  a shock to both the neighborhood and the McNabbs at the outset.  Nonetheless, both groups eventually adapted well to the newfound diversity.  Similarly, Donovan experienced a good family life.  His father, an electrical engineer, impressed upon his children the value of hard work, doing the right thing, and staying goal oriented.  Donovan’s mother, a nurse, was always there to listen and help her children work through life’s issues.

Donovan eventually attended and excelled in football and basketball at Chicago’s private, all male, Roman Catholic Mount Carmel High School.  With an annual tuition of $8,250, Mount Carmel prides itself for both its athletic and academic excellence and has been recognized as a Blue Ribbon and National Exemplary school.  Indeed, the school’s slogan boasts, “you came to Carmel as a boy.  If you care to struggle and work at it, you will leave as a man.”  As many of you know, prior to being drafted second by the Philadelphia Eagles in 1999, Donovan had an exceptional three-year football career as the quarterback for the Syracuse Orangemen.  What many of you probably do not know is that Donovan chose Syracuse over a number of other excellent football programs for its communications department (which is nationally ranked among the top 20).  He had future aspirations of being a sports broadcaster.

* * *

I take issue with Donovan McNabb in several respects.  First, Hopkins’ rant does not represent the first time that an individual has disparaged McNabb concerning his role as the quarterback of the Eagles and Donovan has not subsequently defended himself.  In September 2003—the year that the Eagles went 14-3 and lost to the Panthers in the NFC Championship game—Rush Limbaugh criticized the media and the National Football League for providing an overrated evaluation of McNabb as a quarterback:

“I don’t think he’s been that good from the get go.  I think what we’ve had here is a little social concern in the NFL.  I think the media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well…  He got a lot of credit for the performance of this team that he really didn’t deserve.”

Similar to Hopkins’ rant, Rush’s statements regarding McNabb were racially driven.  And what did McNabb say in response to this statement?  Essentially, nothing:

“I know I played badly the first two games…  He said what he said…  I’m sure he’s not the only one that feels that way but it’s somewhat shocking to actually hear that on national TV…  An apology would do no good because he obviously thought about it before he said it.”

Hello?  Donovan, by 2003, you had completed only four seasons as the star quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles, yet, you had passed for a total of 9,835 yards, thrown for a total of 71 touchdowns, rushed for a total of 1,884 yards, and run for a total of 14 touchdowns.  I think it’s fair to say Donovan had a reason and the justification to defend himself against Rush’s remarks.  Nonetheless, he took the criticism and remained quiet.  His career continued to flourish but it certainly left a blemish on his professional image.  It sent the message to both his fans and his critics that I’m passive, I’m soft, and I may be incapable of being a leader.

Fast-forward to May 2011, where Donovan once again failed to respond to Hopkins’ disparaging remarks regarding his role as an African American quarterback in the NFL.  Indeed, via his publicist, he refused to even issue a comment.  Now, I get it, Donovan.  You theorize that there’s no need to respond to such ignorant remarks because everyone knows that the substance of the statements are inaccurate and not worthy of your attention.  Got it.  However, McNabb actually is the perfect person in the perfect position to issue a response to these remarks.  He is a famous, professional African American (some might say, even a role model) who understands that African American males can excel in this Country while not representing the Hopkins’ Traits.  Essentially, McNabb was given the perfect platform to speak from and convey this point to me, you, and every African American child in the hood searching for inspiration.  However, he did not speak!

In sum, Donovan is a GREAT person, but he has consistently tarnished his image, not by behaving inappropriately, but by being so darn passive.  Moreover, from my vantage point as a 29-year-old African American male, he has failed as a leader and as a role model.  He certainly entered Mount Carmel “as a boy,” but sometimes he compels me to wonder whether he actually left “as a man.”  Should you wish to be a leader and a role model, my advice to you, Donovan—take it or leave it—is the following:

1)   Always issue a statement in response to criticism from your peers, even if it consists of a short and concise acknowledgement that “everyone is entitled to their own opinion but you beg to differ with respect to [fill in the blank].”  A simple responsive statement illustrates, among other things, that you are aware of what has been said, are strong enough to respond to your critics, but understand when it’s not worth bickering over trivial issues.  Note, a statement should be issued by you, not your agent.

2)   Be proactive.  Criticism should never be your sole basis for issuing public statements.  At the very least, compel your publicist to make statements regarding causes you support (e.g., the fight against diabetes).  Unfortunately, your professional image could use a little boost.

3)   Take pride in your ability to positively influence those around you, particularly African American youth who have had limited exposure to strong African American male figures.

– NRH

Your Image Is Never Above The Law

The Justice System can be swift and unforgiving.

I recently published the following article on a website that caters to aspiring professional basketball players and college/NBA recruiters:

An unknown author once wrote, “remember, people will judge you by your actions, not your intentions.  You may have a heart of gold, but so does a hard-boiled egg.”  This statement is quite powerful.  It reminds us that one’s actions, not mere intentions, are everything.  This statement is particularly true when your image is a brand and ultimately your source of income.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  I am not, and never will be, an exceptionally talented athlete who plays a professional sport for a living.  In fact, I do what some people consider to be quite boring.  I am the quintessential “corporate desk jockey.”  At age 29, I practice law as a corporate litigator in New York City, suing companies and white-collar professionals on a daily basis.  As a result, I know and understand four critical things: (i) the power of money; (ii) what it is like to be a young professional; (iii) that one bad decision can translate into a courtroom appearance; and (iv) how quickly such an appearance can strip a professional of his career.  Accordingly, in this article, I will highlight certain legal factors every young professional athlete should consider in cultivating a positive image.

The Power of Money

In most cultures, money, at least in part, is a symbol of power.  With the right bank account, the World becomes your oyster.  I can recall thinking to myself as a kid (and every now and then as an adult), “what would I do if I won the lottery?”  Instantly, a million answers leapt into my head: I would spin a globe like Prince Akeem and randomly select a destination; I would fulfill each one of my need-for-speed desires by purchasing several European made sports cars; I would purchase a home in each of my favorite cities; and most importantly, I would not think twice about my actions, because why should I, I’m a millionaire, right?!?

In contrast to my delusions of lottery grandeur, sixty men actually win the “NBA lottery” each June, gaining the right to play for 1 of 30 National Basketball Association teams.  Last year’s average first-year salary for an NBA rookie drafted in the first round amounted to just under $1.7 million.  This number does not take into account the first-year endorsement money reaped by certain uniquely talented rookies.  Thus, in addition to the pressure of performing up to huge expectations on the court, NBA rookie players are given the daunting task of managing their lives off the court as newfound millionaires.  Recently, too many young professional athletes have squandered such money not because they purchased expensive cars and lavish homes, but because they miscalculated the legal ramifications of their actions.  Indeed, what these athletes didn’t realize is that their image is never above the law.  Notwithstanding O.J. Simpson’s success with the late, great Johnnie Cochran at his side, fortunately you can never buy your way out of a confrontation with the U.S. Justice System.  Moreover, a legal confrontation can arise at the blink of an eye, while tarnishing your image in an even shorter period of time.

The Young Professional

The definition of the young professional is quite expansive these days.  In an era where one of the most talented rap stars of all time is as successful in business at age 41 as he was with music at age 26, the professional title is no longer limited to those individuals associated with law, medicine, big-business or Wall Street.  The professional constitutes anyone from an athlete/entertainer to the Chief Executive Officer of a large corporation.

In carrying the professional title, one must accommodate the baggage that comes along with it, including the responsibility of making sound decisions.  Importantly, one’s inattention to this responsibility can amount to professional suicide.  For instance, over the past four years, the following group of professionals has consistently been the target of criticism and negative attention from the government, the media, and the average citizen: the Wall Street and corporate tycoons.  Understandably, a negative aura has followed this group of professionals because many of their most wealthy figures contributed to the demise of the U.S. economy (cough, cough…Bernard Madoff…cough).  I won’t bore you with the details, but, as you probably know, their reckless deeds did not go unpunished.  In fact, I can’t count on two hands the number of corporate executives, wealth managers or professional investors who have been recently fined and/or served jail time as a result of their violations of the U.S. securities laws and regulations.  Many, if not most of them, never anticipated that one bad decision would lead them down a path of fraud and deceit, and the eventual loss of their professional reputation and ability to earn a living.  At the end of the day, many of these white-collar criminals were stripped of their professions because of their greed and a complete disregard for anything other than making money.

So, you might be wondering, “where is he going with this?  I’m an up-and-coming professional athlete, not an executive capable of violating the U.S. securities laws.”  My point is simple; money can similarly cause the young professional athlete to lose sight of the most critical responsibility accompanying the title: maintaining a squeaky-clean image.

A Legal Confrontation Can Arise At The Blink of An Eye

As a male in my late twenties, I am certainly capable of making the occasional bad decision.  I’ll provide an example that all of us have either been in or seen played out on television: you decide to meet a friend at a crowded and chaotic bar.  While you’re attempting to grab a drink, a drunken guy bumps into you, spilling his beverage all over your crisp, new outfit.  To make things worse, the guy fails to acknowledge his wrong, giving you a look as if he’s owed an apology.  The two of you exchange a couple of unpleasant words, and eventually, you find yourself laying a hand on the guy, escalating the situation to a level further than it should have ever reached.

Here’s a second example: you meet an attractive young lady while you’re out with a few friends.  One thing leads to another, and she comes back to your home later that night.  You two have sex, and she departs the next morning before you even get an opportunity to learn more than her first name.  To your surprise, the young lady is 15 years old.  You’re 23.

I’ll provide a third and final example: a friend who you’ve known for almost your entire life presents an idea to you.  He recently learned that a well-off acquaintance of his stores large quantities of alcohol in his home.  He proposes that you provide him a ride to the acquaintance’s home, where he will gain entrance into the residence and take a couple bottles of alcohol for you all to share.  He promises that the acquaintance won’t even realize that such a small quantity of alcohol is missing.  He additionally assures you that if anything goes wrong, you’ll be okay because “giving him a ride doesn’t constitute a crime.”  You two go through with the plan and subsequently share the alcohol your friend procures.

Let’s dissect the former examples.  With respect to the first one, where did you go wrong?  Well, if you are, or soon will be, an NBA player, there are a number of appropriate answers to this question, for instance:

1)    If it’s during the NBA season, maybe the better decision would have been to stay at home and rest;

2)    You shouldn’t surround yourself with friends who regularly hangout in such environments;

3)    You should have immediately walked away from the situation, exiting the bar; or

4)    You should have hired professionals to accompany you and guard against such confrontations.

Now, these answers were likely obvious to many of you.  However, let me ask a much tougher question: do you know the possible legal ramifications of your actions in example one?  Unfortunately, a majority of you probably does not know the following answer to the question: common law battery constitutes an unlawful application of force to another, resulting in either bodily injury or an offensive touching.[1]  In many jurisdictions, merely laying a hand on another person rises to the level of offensive touching.  Moreover, battery is a general intent crime, meaning in order to be charged with or potentially convicted of the crime, you must only intend to act, not cause a specific result.  Therefore, in the first example, even if you only intended to lightly touch the other guy, if he reasonably felt offended or harmed by it, you could find yourself arrested and eventually inside a courtroom.

Let’s keep it moving.  With respect to the second example, the obvious answer as to where you went wrong is that you failed to actually learn anything substantive about your sexual partner.  What you may not know is that in New York State (and in many other U.S. States), a person under 17 years of age is legally incapable of consenting to sexual intercourse or other sexual contact.  Thus, in many jurisdictions, example two constitutes a statutory rape violation.  Because statutory rape is a strict liability crime, your ignorance regarding the woman’s age is irrelevant.  In other words, a court of law will not even address your state of mind in determining whether you committed the crime.

The third and final example unfortunately occurs too often.  Many people are ignorant to the fact that minimally aiding someone who commits a crime will get them in just as much trouble as the person who committed the crime.  Here, you were an accomplice to your friend’s burglary of the acquaintance’s home.  Burglary in New York and most U.S. States constitutes entering or remaining unlawfully in a building with the intent to commit a crime therein.  The crime that your friend intended to, and did eventually, commit is larceny, which, in its common law form, is a trespassory (wrongful and without permission) taking and carrying away of personal property of another with the intent of permanently depriving the owner.  Accomplice liability arises when a person intentionally aids or encourages another person in the commission of a crime.  The accomplice must actually intend that the crime occur.  In most jurisdictions, merely driving one to and/or from the scene of a crime rises to the level of accomplice liability.  Further, the Court typically finds the accomplice guilty of any crime the principle is guilty of committing.  Thus, in this example, a court of law likely would find you guilty of burglary, where it also convicts your friend of the crime.

A Day In Court Amounts To More Than A Day of Lost Wages

I provide the foregoing examples as proof that certain intentions, seeming so innocent, can effortlessly translate into imperfect actions.  For certain lucky individuals, these actions will be excused by present and/or future employers.  However, the professional athlete is rarely so lucky.  Professional athletes are akin to executive officers of a corporation; once the board of directors and shareholders (i.e., league commissioner, front office and fans) lose all of the confidence they once had in their leaders, the six to seven figure salaries dry up.  For instance, several prominent athletes have recently squandered guaranteed wages as a result of reasonably avoidable damage to their image:

Professional Athlete

Lost Wages

Tiger Woods As of July 2010, his endorsement deals had declined from $92 million to $70 million, including lost contracts with Gatorade, Accenture and AT&T.
Michael Vick As of August 2007, it was estimated that he would lose $100 million as a result of lost future salary, potential repayment of bonuses to the Falcons for defaulting on his contract, and endorsement money drying up.
Kobe Bryant He lost endorsement contracts with McDonalds, Nutella, and Coca-Cola, amounting to between $4 and $6 million of lost income.
Latrell Sprewell He lost the remaining three years of a four-year $32 million contract with the Golden State Warriors and a $500k-$700k per year endorsement contract with Converse.
O.J. Simpson He lost a $2.5 million per year endorsement contract with Hertz, his NFL commentary job with NBC, and his future appearances in the Naked Gun movie series.

Naturally, the question arises, what can future athletes do to avoid this dilemma?  First, at an early age, a person who intends to pursue a career in professional sports should be mindful of how his actions can adversely affect his image.  Second, he must realize that notwithstanding all of his hard work and the large player/endorsement contracts accompanying it, he has not earned the privilege to ignore the potential negative ramifications of his actions.  Third, he must seek out mentors who have been where he is going, as there’s plenty of truth to the old adage, “you are who you surround yourself with.”

– NRH


[1] Offensive touching loosely constitutes contact that a person of ordinary sensitivity would not permit.