The League

Gene Grabowski

Gene Grabowski

A Senior Vice President of Levick Strategic Communications, is an authority on communications strategies for crisis matters.

A Doomed Court

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These days, it's clearly tougher to be a professional athlete in America. Yet the reason why it's tougher may not be as clear cut as it seems. The legal system is definitely fair, but athletes still may not be getting a fair shake where it really matters: In the court of public opinion.

For professional athletes, naturally gifted from Day One, there's a lot of adulation. Yet the public can turn on them very quickly if it feels that the athletes aren't letting the fans in on the fun. Sometimes that's because an athlete just wants to focus on the job at hand, but that will to win can easily be transformed into arrogance. Top athletes -- whether it be Alex Rodriguez, Michael Vick before his conviction or, now, Plaxico Burress -- just don't take enough notice of that.

I often hear people say something on the order of "Just because someone pays the price of a ticket doesn't mean they own me." Except, to a certain extent, it does. The collective public is the group buying all the tickets, and they're the ones that make it possible for athletes to live the lives they do. The public is looking for acknowledgment of its support and for truth and contrition when an athlete does something wrong.

It's all a matter of personality, and avoiding the airs of arrogance. With the kind of trouble he got into, and his personality, Babe Ruth easily could have had a hard time with fans. He never did, and that's largely because he never came across as arrogant.

Am I trying to say that modern athletes should be like Babe Ruth? No, they can actually do one better: They can try to be like country musicians. The reason country singers are so beloved is because they travel across the country and whenever they win any kind of an award, the first thing they do is thank all the fans. That brings people in on their achievement, and makes them buy into the band or singer even more. People can relate to those singers, and that makes them people even more committed to them.

Compare that with rock and rap stars, not to mention athletes, and you can see why people like country stars. They're just living lives closer to the people who buy the tickets, or at least they claim to be.

Until NFL players start taking notice of that, and start connecting with fans on that more basic, everyday level, they're going to be convicted by public opinion before they even get a day in court. At best that dulls the punishment sent against them by the legal system.

By Gene Grabowski  |  June 8, 2009; 6:57 PM ET  | Category:  Crime , Plaxico Burress Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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So if athletes just manage their PR better then they wouldn't be in jail.

Sorry Gene but you're the one that doesn't get it.

Vick went to jail because he broke the law. Burris will probably go to jail because he broke the law.

What has changed is the public's tolerance for crime. It's now just about zero. People now demand if they do the crime they go to jail.

That's what has changed. Morons like Vick and Burris don't understand that so they go to jail.

Where they hire you to whine for them.

Posted by: krankyman | June 9, 2009 9:06 AM

I can't stand country singers. Don't lump me in with the Toby Keith Klan.

They can thank their fans for burning food stamps and welfare on tickets to hear some dude cry about his dog getting run over, but that doesn't make it good music.

Posted by: theobserver4 | June 9, 2009 10:06 AM

Babe Ruth was a drunken wife beater who probably was pulled over every night by cops. But, it was different then. He was a icon and idol to kids. Mainly white kids. Who would dare ruin things for the kids by taking him to jail? Are you kidding me? Athletes were white back then. That's why nobody dared taint their image. Today...folks don't care. I think it's race. But, trying to convince folks is tough because of the denial and reluctance to acknowledge racism in America. The Michael Vick stuff is a good example. Barry Bonds...on and on. Nobody will admit to it however.

Now, with today's Blacks dominating sports post Jesse Owens, Jackie Robinson nobody gives a darn. The more folks hear about negative stuff the better they can impose stereotypes to their children. The message:

You may not be able to play sports but look what kind of people athletes are anyway. They are bad people...bad people son. You don't have to marvel or appreciate them the way I did Ruth.

...Country artist don't thank the fans anymore than athletes do. They all say the same things. That goes for rap artist and anybody else that counts on "hind parts in seats" to earn their money.

Posted by: kentonsmith | June 9, 2009 12:21 PM

I definately feel that the media impacts how we see athletes for good or bad. Athletes should accept this as part of the job, getting paid millions has its price. KentonSmith racism does exist in the US but I would take it being in the US more than any other country in the world. Outside of being incredible athletes on the athletic field Bonds and Vick are followers, nothing more.

Posted by: JEllswo3111 | June 9, 2009 4:18 PM

What does the money have to do with it? Why does every opinion of Joe Citizen...Joe Six Pack....seems to be package with the money? These guys get paid what they should be paid. Do you question why Julia Roberts makes 16 million per movie? We readily accept the fact that those entertainers are rare talents but somehow with athletes we always compare them with the working class. Why? They are entertainers too.

I don't see your point calling Bonds and Vick followers. I mean so what. Who said athletes had to be role models? We didn't call them that back in the old days. They were sports idols or heroes. Our scout master was a role model...Dad....the deacon at church.

It's called finding anything to hate athletes for and I contend it's because they are young black kids from poor backgrounds that make a lot of money. Some don't think it's fair and out of frustration society has creating the national flogging. I call it

The War!!!

Posted by: kentonsmith | June 9, 2009 5:12 PM

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