This was a column I wrote that ran recently. The Kory Sheets issue is dead and gone, as I predicted it would be as soon as he opened up about it. That’s the way these things work. But the main message of this column is applicable to all of us – be open, transparent, and above all else, hold yourself to the highest standard….
Recently on CBC Saskatchewan’s ‘Blue Sky’ radio show (which is awesome, FYI), host Garth Materie asked whether or not we should hold athletes and public figures to a higher standard. He had opened the dialogue in the wake of the news that Saskatchewan Roughrider tailback Kory Sheets had been charged with domestic violence in a Florida courtroom, back in January 2013.
The news broke as Sheets was in Saskatoon for the Rider’s training, resplendent with gory details over Sheets’ female companions “busted lip” and a juicy mug shot.
I joined Garth for a chat, telling him what I tell all my public relations clients: if you want to be famous, you don’t get to pick and choose when you are famous. This means taking the public love with the hate, and managing that appropriately. That is one of the many rules of PR – I don’t make them, but I sure know what happens when they get broken.
You may label this elevated scrutiny for public figures a “higher standard”, but what it really means is that the public figure must hold him or her self to a higher standard, lest you befall a scandal like Sheets. You may also argue that Sheets just wants to play football – why should his dirty laundry be any more public than the average truck driver, plumber or nurse? The answer is simple – because CFL football players – especially in Saskatchewan, for heaven’s sake – are public figures. If I say the name ‘Kory Sheets’, the majority of you are going to know who he is. An unsettling majority of you will be able to rattle off five years of his stats, his birthdate and his blood-type. So yeah, his mug shot is kinda going to be of interest.
See how this works?
Just like last week’s column, where I (tried, anyway) to point out that those who enter public office will face scrutiny over their choices and beliefs, a similar rule applies to public figures, including athletes. This will be amplified by the market and demographic – would the same story about a Toronto Argonaut make a ripple in the Centre of the Universe? No, probably not. Those who choose to become Saskatchewan Roughrider’s must know that they will face more analysis than those in other markets. This equals awesome home games, the best fans in the world, and a whole bunch of questions to answer when you a bust a woman’s lip.
The Saskatchewan Roughrider’s made a rather amateur PR blunder when the story broke, naively indicating issuing a short statement about facts and responsibility and that “in fairness to everyone involved with this situation, the Saskatchewan Roughrider Football Club will have no further comment on this matter.” Whoops – that won’t do now will it (that’s PR rule #18, give or take a few). Telling people you’re not going to talk about something is going to have the exact opposite affect you want it to, especially the media, compounded by the rabid nature of Rider fans.
That was Monday.
On Tuesday Sheets strode onto the field and directly up to the larger than normal media throng (see: last paragraph) and answered every last question asked of him. He was “embarassed”, “not proud” and a whole bunch of other contrite attributes. He went into detail about what he learned in the domestic violence classes he was required to take as part of his sentence, completion of which resulted in in the charges being dismissed.
And with that open and honest transparency, coupled with Rider GM Brendan Taman hastily adding his comments (as opposed to “no further comments”) on Sheets being on his “final strike” – POOF! – the story magically disappeared.
See how that works?
Here’s hoping Sheets, age 28, has gleaned from this experience a whole bunch of reasons to hold himself to a higher standard.