If you follow the sports media industry, you’re likely aware of the drama involving Britt McHenry of ESPN. To make a long story short, Britt had an incident a few weeks ago when her car was towed. As a result of the situation, she said a number of things to a clerk at Advance Towing that I’m sure she wishes she shouldn’t have. Here’s the video if you haven’t seen it.
When I heard about the story it saddened me because I think Britt does excellent work for ESPN. I’ve seen these types of incidents happen before and end up crippling people’s careers. I’m not one to pile on nor play judge and jury, because I wasn’t there, and I don’t know all of the other factors that occurred off camera. However, it bothers me to see someone with talent, and a great platform, lose it over a bad decision.
When I worked in St. Louis from 2006 to 2011 I saw this occur a number of times. I witnessed Kevin Slaten damage his reputation by getting into issues with fans, coaches and other media colleagues. He even went as far as putting pitching coach Dave Duncan on the air without his permission, a decision which cost him his job at 590 The Fan, KFNS. An example of those issues can be found here.
I watched Jack Clark put himself in a vulnerable spot when he accused Albert Pujols of being a steroid user despite having no proof to validate his claims. As a result of attacking Pujols’ character on the radio, Pujols’ camp threatened legal action. Shortly afterwards, CBS Sports 920 parted ways with Clark less than one week into his employment.
I also observed an incident where my own guy, D’Marco Farr, became the center of controversy at a Super Bowl party when it was captured by TMZ’s cameras. This one bothered me a great deal because to the viewer watching at home, they saw D’Marco as a mean spirited jerk who thought he could say and do whatever he wished. If you knew anything about the man, you’d know that he was a first class human being who always tried to do the right thing and treat people well. This particular episode was a set up. D’Marco’s mistake was that he took the bait.
The next day in St. Louis, local TV stations piled on and one website ran a poll question asking “Has your opinion of D’Marco Farr changed as a result of this incident“? I spoke to my boss about the situation, and filled him in on some of the facts surrounding the story (some which weren’t reported), and was then asked by the local newspaper for a comment.
I remember sharing a hotel room with D’Marco during this trip and we talked about it and he felt terrible that he lost his cool. He was determined to make up for it and learn from it. It was important to him that people in the St. Louis community knew this wasn’t who he was, and without even having to push it, he took to the airwaves the next day to apologize and address it.
I stood up for him when the incident happened because I knew that he was a good person with good values, and he was a talented guy who everyone at the radio station liked. He was great with our clients, a respected teammate and valued member of the community. I felt he would earn back the community’s trust and respect by conducting himself the way he had 99% of the time prior to that moment.
For the sharks in the water though, they wanted more blood. Could I have satisfied their appetite and thrown him out the door? Sure. But is that always the best decision to make? I didn’t think so then, and I’m glad I didn’t cave in to public pressure. If I had, it would have been the wrong move.
The last time I checked, we’re not all perfect. We make mistakes, and with social media as dominant as it is today, every single decision of ours is under a microscope. Companies react to bad publicity a lot faster than they ever have, and a great 10-15 year career can be forgotten in an instant if you’re not smart.
It doesn’t matter who threw the first punch, what someone said when you’re out in public, or if someone was antagonizing you on Twitter. If you respond poorly, it’s Media Person X of Company Y who responded. Whether that’s fair or not, that’s how it is!
If a regular person working for an insurance company acts out poorly, it doesn’t make news. But you are the news because of your public persona. With your position comes a different set of rules. You’re expected to take the high road, and recognize the danger signs when they appear before you.
One bad decision can harm your personal brand, and your employer. If a company loses sponsors, viewers/listeners, and ultimately dollars, good luck getting them to stand by you. This doesn’t mean you can’t disagree with someone, or respond to a negative comment on your social media page, but understand that the world is watching, and sometimes even recording. The material you choose to post in a public space doesn’t get deleted as fast as you think.
We may want to see the good in everyone, but some people have agendas. You’ve got to catch yourself before you do something that permanently ruins your career. An easy way to avoid these situations is to do great work and conduct yourself in a classy manner. That rarely leads to negative headlines.
I don’t know ESPN’s views of Britt McHenry’s work and whether or not she’s a good teammate and person. I’ve had a few limited interactions with her and always found her to be classy. Based on that knowledge, I’m going to assume that she simply had a bad moment. Hopefully for her sake this doesn’t define her career and she learns from it.
If there’s anything to take away from these situations if you’re a broadcaster or public figure, it’s to remember that you are the brand at all times! It says so on your business card, website and social media page. Don’t lose sight of that. One poor decision on your part could be the one that defines your career and prevents you from working in the industry. Don’t make the mistake of letting that happen!