Athletes Who Say Stupid Things Could Learn From Joey Votto
We all make mistakes. We all open our mouths and say things in haste without thinking, without considering how the words may sound, and without thought for the feelings of others. We all make mistakes and we all live with the consequences.
The difference is that we’re not all Joey Votto. A big-league all-star multi-millionare baseball player who was born with oodles of talent and earned all the privelages that comw with it, Votto certainly lives one helluva good life.
The wake of outrage from this mini-scandal (read: only in Canada) comes twofold. Firstly, he put down the country of his birth. As Canadians, we’re perpetually in the state of the underdog. We live in the shadow of the USA and feel the rest of the world (and mostly Americans themselves) forgetting our humble land mass sitting just north. (let’s ignore for a moment that we should never feel secondary to a country like the United States. After all, the US and A is a dysfunctional behemoth that got lucky with a great location and excellent timing then immorally abused slaves to build a country that now has skyrocketing obesity rates among children – but hey, we’re jealous they founded Starbucks or something).
Secondly, Votto seemingly disregards the very institutions that gave him the opportunity to become Joey Votto, ridiculously good and ridiculously rich baseball player. He certainly didn’t get there alone. Votto showed a lack of perspective, forgetting that Canada is one helluva great place to develop as a baseball player compared to, oh I dunno, 95% of the rest of the world.
Except despite all that, Votto did an incredible job getting himself out of a rundown. There is a lot for other professional athletes – and regular folks – can learn.
Athletes are celebrities and play by the same rules. They are held to a certain standard for what they say, in response to questions asked of them or statements they make without prompting. When Kanye West rides hard for Donald Trump, he faces the consequences. West then inevitably must make a response to the hysteria and consequently face the blowback from that. When the response does not pass the public relations smell test, the cycle repeats. Sometimes in perpetuity. Say enough stinky things and offer up enough stinky response and the smell will never go away. That’s called ‘reputation’.
Athletics has evolved drastically over the decades. Whereas once an athletes suffering a head injury was a laughing matter (‘Going down queer street!’ LOLOLOLOLOLOLOL), now they are treated with the seriousness they deserve. Whereas once the psychologically preparation for competition involved screaming obscenities at players, teams now employ sports psychologists to adapt and prepare athletes.
One area that has woefully not evolved with sports is the approach to public relations, specifically, crisis PR. Sure, marketing has gone a long way. Now every pro-ready athlete coming out of college has a brand with a logo, slogan, and social media accounts synergized to capitalize. But the approach to handling the effects of being a public face was last seen somewhere during the Cretaceous. Few athletes seem to have a clue that part and parcel to having a ‘brand’ involves answering for your brand missteps and folly’s.
Joey Votto does not appear to one of those athletes. In response to his comments, he took the best approach to crisis PR you can take: he came clean.
Some athletes think coming clean means apologizing. As in, just saying the words ‘I’m sorry’ will do. The public could care less when a celebrity says they are sorry. They want to know what they are sorry for and why.
Athletes don’t care to think this way. They prefer to needlessly go through the five stages of grief and loss. They start with denial and isolation, claiming to be taken out context and wondering why everyone seems to take the situation so seriously. Then they get angry, blame the media, blame trolls, blame everyone but themselves. Then they start to bargain, hoping to negotiate for the trust they lost. Then they get depressed, generally doing what a depressed person may do (this tends to mean engaging too much with or cancelling their social media accounts). Finally, acceptance.
For athletes, going through those first four stages does not have to happen.
In crisis PR, the process begins and ends with transparency. Admit anything and everything (unless you’ll go to jail for it – then best to shut your mouth!). Why? Because, as we’ve seen with so many scandals, liars get roasted. And even people who aren’t lying - public figures who simply provide incomplete or unreasonable explanations - are treated like liars. The public at large accepts apologies, if they are the right kind. The truthful kind. The reflective kind. The honest kind.
A lack of transparency communicates to people excuse-making. Excuses require little reflection and or honesty. An excuse requires you being excused. An explanation asks nothing of the public. More athletes would be well served to be honest with themselves and their public. You’re in the sh*t
Not only did Votto apologize for his comments, he gave the explanation behind the comments in the first place. He admitted to weakness of character. He admitted to rash thinking. He came clean.
And guess what? We may never look at Votto the same way again – but that was inevitable as soon as he said what he said. At least now, time will be kind to him. The mention of him may elicit a laugh and a rueful, ‘Remember when…?’ but for most people, it will be water under the bridge.
Rhys Dowbiggin @Rdowb
Rhys is the host of The Hurt Take on Not The Public Broadcaster