Welcome back to The Sports Ace, where it doesn’t take the better part of two weeks to play the College World Series.
I learned this morning that Deadspin now has a regular contributor called “The Handler,” a self-described PR pro with several high-profile athlete clients. In this second piece in the series, this author tries to expose what he feels the world of working with athletes is really like – deceitful and sordid. Now, having worked with athletes myself, I don’t doubt any of the alleged stories/details described in the column, as unfortunate as that is to say. And I won’t even say that The Handler isn’t committed to his clients’ success, as any good PR pro should be. But…as an accredited and seasoned PR pro myself, I’m concerned about a few things I see in the piece.
First – I’m bothered by The Handler’s apparent motivations here. In the PR business, our clients and our companies get the spotlight; we are the counselors behind the scenes that help facilitate success, and then over time we build a reputation for good work and high integrity among our peers. By even writing this piece, it’s clear to me that The Handler is isolated from other pros and tired of watching his clients get all the attention, and he wants some for himself. Or, at least, he wants some credit for his self-described “professional accomplishments”…which really won’t come anyway because third parties assign credit/expertise, not individuals for themselves. Ultimately, besides the money Deadspin is likely shelling out for the series, I’d bet The Handler won’t be fulfilled from writing this piece. Attention and credit are impossible to receive when there’s no one earning the credit or no name for anyone to give attention/credit to.
Second – there are potential ethics breaches that come from this. On the plus side, The Handler is contributing to the free flow of information and fostering open communication about a subject matter. He also protects confidential information about his clients…only by not naming them. (That, of course, would blow up in his face – and likely end his career – if his identity leaks out somehow.)
But that’s where it ends. Without giving all the details (especially names) the public only gets some of the story and has to guess at the rest. That’s no way to establish the facts and open up a truly productive debate about the issue at hand. Also, what self-respecting PR pro in his right mind goes anonymous? Quite simply, that’s code for “I’m afraid” or the cardinal sin of PR itself, “No comment;” it implies guilt and suggests that even by coming clean, The Handler has called his professionalism and integrity into question. Finally, and most important, one of the key ethical tenets of PR is to work to strengthen the public’s trust in the profession and our clients; if we are not trustworthy, and seen as high-integrity, we cannot function as PR people. I fear the average Joe reading this will now (again) associate PR with spin doctoring, covering up facts and protecting clients at all costs, legal and illegal. That’s not what I want others thinking about what we do…because that’s NOT what we do.
Apparently, this column isn’t going away…Deadspin, after all, loves sensational stories that will grab web traffic. Unfortunately, I have a hunch that means this could be the first of many posts reminding readers of the truths and practices of the PR industry that I know and love, inside and outside of the sports world.
That’s all for now. I’m out like LaDainian Tomlinson.