Archive for the ‘Athletes’ Category

Clean Slate

April 12, 2012

Our firm specializes in crisis management and training spokespersons to efficiently convey their message to the media, or Media Training. However, if the Miami Marlins baseball team called on us to manage the crisis brought about by their manager, Ozzie Guillén, our answer would have to be: “Up till now you have handled the situation poorly. Regardless, we’re sorry but this situation is unfixable. The only solution is to clean the slate and, also, do it as quickly as possible.”

For those who may not be aware of it, Ozzie Guillén, a 48 year old US citizen born in Venezuela, told Time Magazine that “I love Fidel Castro… I respect Fidel Castro, you know why? A lot of people have wanted to kill Fidel Castro for the last 60 years, but that… is still here.” Guillén also used a profanity that was most inappropriate for someone who not only represents a professional sports franchise but also a city: Miami.

We’re in a country where freedom of speech is respected. Anyone has the right to say his or her opinion and defend it in public. However, it’s clear that praising Fidel Castro in a city like Miami, the capital of the Cuban diaspora, doesn’t precisely show great sensibility towards the city’s Cuban community.

On the other hand, just like Guillén can have an opinion, that’s also a right of Miami’s Cuban community. Especially if we take into account that it is the citizens of Miami who buy tickets to see the Marlins play. And that doesn’t take into account the $487 million in public funds spent to build their stadium which, likewise, were paid by taxpayers. Paradoxically, a stadium located in the very heart of Little Havana, one of the most emblematic places for Cuban exiles.

The Marlin organization distanced itself from his comments and suspended Guillén for five games, adding that his salary for those days would be donated to charitable organizations. Guillén held a press conference where he apologized and said that his comments were misunderstood.

Time Magazine isn’t a second-rate publication. It is one of the most important media organizations in the world. I just can’t believe that it’s reporters would publish something like this, knowing the controversy it would stir-up, if they didn’t have concrete proof of these having been Guillén’s exact comments. If they had distorted the manager’s comments, I assume that Time would be sued for millions of dollars for seriously damaging Guillén’s image and career.

In any crisis where an organization or a person have made a mistake, asking for forgiveness is the first step to beginning to resolve the crisis. However, in this case, I don’t think it will solve anything. First of all, Guillén apologized but never rectified his opinion of Castro. However, even if he said today that Castro is a dictator, his words would probably not be seen as credible by Miami’s Cuban community. They’d likely be perceived as an attempt to hold on to his job and his $10 million salary. Secondly, his body language during the press conference didn’t seem to match with what he was saying. It’s important to remember that 80% of someone’s credibility is conveyed by their body language and not the actual message.

On the other hand, the sanction imposed by the Marlins is probably hurting rather than helping them. It seems clear that Guillén has lost the Cuban community’s support, a fundamental fan base for the team. The longer they take to decide to get rid of this manager, the more damage it will do to their relationship with this Cuban community. Guillén has every right to give his opinion and the Marlins also have every right to fire him if they realize that they have lost the support of the community they represent.

 In circumstances such as this one, Media Training or crisis management have very limited value. Guillén also faces another problem because now he can’t make anybody happy. Not Miami’s Cuban community nor Fidel Castro’s supporters. The first because he offended them and the others because of his attempt to take back what he said.

Cristiano Ronaldo: loose lips sink ships

September 19, 2011

“People are jealous of me because I’m rich, handsome and a great player,” said Cristiano Ronaldo to reporters after his
team’s, Real Madrid, Champions League match against the Dinamo Zagreb. Ronaldo was complaining against the kicks he’d received from the Croatian players.

His team’s next game was against the Spanish Football League’s Levante. A team with a budget that pales in comparison to Real Madrid’s. A modest team. Levante’s players, after hearing Ronaldo’s statement, ironically said that when Ronaldo
talked about being “handsome, rich and a great player” they thought that he was talking about each and every one of them. Cristiano Ronaldo’s comments were interpreted by many as a clear allusion to players from smaller teams, such as
Dinamo Zagreb or Levante.

The training to know how to deal with the media isn’t only for politicians, businessmen and industry leaders, but also for elite sports figures such as Ronaldo. Why? Because we are not only talking about his comments portraying him as someone with a big ego, but also because of their direct impact on his team. Why? Because they clearly gave additional motivation to Levante in their match against Real Madrid.

Any team is always motivated in a game against Real Madrid, one of the best in the world. However, if Ronaldo asserts that others are jealous because he is handsome, rich and very good that clearly implies that the other lesser rivals are ugly,
poor, and bad. Is there a better venue to vindicate themselves, the supposed “ugly, poor, and bad” than in a game against Real Madrid?

The predictions were that Real Madrid would out shoot Levante on its own field. In fact, leading Real Madrid players such as Özil, Ronaldo and Higuaín even started the game as substitute players.

The final score was a real surprise. Levante was able to win with 1-0. A tie would have been a success, but they achieved a heroic victory and won the three points at play. Prior to the match, Real Madrid was one point ahead of FC Barcelona and this loss left it one point behind.

In addition to the other factors that affected the final score, is anyone in doubt of the extra push that Cristiano Ronaldo gave the Levante players clearly hurt Real Madrid?

That is why top-shelf players must undergo Media Training. Loose lips sink ships.


Real Madrid and Barcelona: in need of urgent help

March 14, 2010

The Real Madrid futbol team was eliminated from the European Cup during the round prior to the quarterfinals, something that after the 300 million Euros spent by the team to strengthen its roster has given rise to a real earthquake of complaints from fans.  Their dreams of a Champions finale at the Bernabéu stadium have been destroyed.

The team had lost 1-0 to Lyon during a previous game in France.  Nevertheless, after their incredible comeback during their game against Sevilla only a few days before (where they were losing 2-0 at home, and ended up winning 3-2, literally at the last minute), many thought that the European qualifying round was in Real Madrid’s hands.

However, Lyon fought like a lion and ended up tying the game 1-1, classifying for the next round.  Pjanic, the Lyon player who scored their goal, said that “we were motivated by the Madrid’s arrogant comments to the press before the game,” regarding the comments by some Real Madrid players about the many goals they were going to score against Lyon.

Sergio Ramos, Real Madrid’s defender, an exceptional player who had scored one of the goals against Sevilla, predicted confidently that the team would win 3-0 against Lyon.  After the game, when the teams were on their way to the locker rooms, there was a strong verbal confrontation between several Lyon players and Sergio Ramos.  You don’t need to be too creative to guess what the Lyon players told him.  “Arrogant,” “you had to eat your words,” “thanks for motivating us,” who knows what where the exact words, but it’s clear that the conversation must have been along those lines.

The Real Madrid has one of the best rosters in the world.  It is, at least on paper, clearly a better team than Lyon.  Even so, it lost.  And the Lyon players said they went out to the field in a great mental frame of mind in large part because they were disrespected and categorized as losers even before playing the game. 

Once again this shows the non-existent training given to the best professional athletes to deal with the media.  The last thing they want to do is to raise their opponent’s morale, strengthen their resolve.  Giving them more of a reason to fight tooth and nail to the last second of the game.  Still, many athletes constantly make these incredible mistakes.  And later it’s their team that has to pay the consequences.  In addition to being a sport, futbol is clearly a big business.  This loss means a real moral and economic defeat.  Tickets, souvenir sales, sponsors, television rights, their international image.  The Real Madrid has stopped making a significant additional amount of money.

How is it possible that these players are not trained to know how to behave with the press?  How is it possible that they’re not told what they can’t say about an opponent, especially in the European Cup, where even the worst team is among the best in the world?  How is it that the players are not expected to sign a “style book” about which things can’t be said so as not to harm the team’s interests and image?  And if they are trained, how is it possible that these mistakes are made over and over again?

It’s not about curtailing a player’s freedom of expression.  It’s about the player knowing what not to say so as not to affect the team negatively, as we have clearly seen here.

Now the Real Madrid will have to watch the most important competition in Europe from home and on television.

But, have other players or teams learned from these mistakes?  The answer is no because the most recent example of this behavior was made by a player from the Real Madrid’s archenemy, FC Barcelona.

This Sunday, the Barcelona was hosting the very dangerous Valencia team.  And what did Rafa Márquez, Barcelona’s defender decide to say?  That “without Villa they aren’t that dangerous.”  He was referring to one of the best forwards in the world, David Villa.  The Valencia player finally couldn’t play in Barcelona due to a shoulder injury.

What reaction can Márquez expect to his comments?  Naturally, that the other Valencia players become even more motivated to show that, with or without Villa, they can give Barcelona a big scare.

In the end, Barcelona won authoritatively, but the Valencia team didn’t make it easy for them and fought forcefully and with character.  The first half ended tied 0-0 and the Valencia played better, getting close to goals several times.

I’m still surprised to see how top-level athletes such as Sergio Ramos and Rafael Márquez don’t understand how the media works (those comments will be on the front page of the sports publications because they will add fuel to the fire and will, therefore, sell more papers) nor are they trained to prevent these mistakes.

Media training isn’t only for business leaders, politicians, experts or academicians, but also for athletes. In addition to the team pride and sports angle, what drives the business of sports is too important to make such mistakes. These teams and athletes will have enough challenges on their way to winning to, in addition, look for additional problems that not only will make a win harder, but could seriously damage their team’s finances.

Spain, a racist and xenophobic country?

September 20, 2008


If all public figures were like Rafael Nadal, I would be unemployed. What is my profession? I advise individuals, governments and public and private corporations how to communicate better and more effectively.

In general, you have to train, teach, public figures how to maximize their press appearances, how to transmit more efficiently their message and, especially, how to ensure that they don’t make monumental mistakes that can ruin their image and career.  However, Rafael Nadal doesn’t need any of that training.

Nadal is an example of what needs to be done.  Despite being the number one tennis player in the world, he has always been humble when he speaks and never disrespects his opponents.  He thanks everyone who has helped him reach the top, he doesn’t put himself on a pedestal.  He makes himself accessible to the media and to his fans.  While other elite athletes were staying at luxury hotels in Beijing, he preferred to stay at the Olympic Village with the other athletes.  For him, this meant having to deal with long lines of admirers, something that took away a lot of his time. Time he could have used to rest. But Nadal was happy with his decision.  He is an open kind person who emanates professionalism, sincerity and respect towards everyone.  When he plays badly, he recognizes his faults and praises his opponents.  He is such a nice person, that even his most fierce opponents have kind words for him.  As is customary, those who know the most are the most humble.  He has shown that you can be polite and a fierce warrior at the same time.  Every time Nadal speaks, he makes Spain look good.  Aside from his triumphs on the tennis courts, he is an unbeatable ambassador for the country. He seems impeccable.  Perfect.

However, there are others who need urgent training in how to behave before the worldwide media outlets that we have nowadays.  This is what we call Media Training.  Some athletes, with their comments, have gravely tarnished not only their own image, but Spain’s.  Because, whether or not they want it, in and outside our country, they are viewed as the country’s ambassadors or representatives.  A little piece of all of us.

Some incidents have made many people around the world wonder if Spain is a racist and xenophobic country.  From what they have seen and read, and from another nation’s perspective, I am not surprised that they reached this conclusion.  The saddest thing is that this is as far from the truth as can be, but some unfortunate incidents and comments have exported this damaging perception.  And the consequences are extremely grave.

The fact that Spanish Olympic athletes are featured in a photograph making gestures to make their eyes look Chinese is not considered an insult in Spain, just an anecdote, a joke with no intention of harming or insulting anyone. These photos, of course, were never made with the intention of offending the Chinese.  It’s the same as if the Olympics had been held in Spain, no one would have been offended if the Chinese had gotten their picture taken dressed as flamenco dancers.  Even so, I still can’t believe that no one in Spain realized the mistake they were making.  The number one rule in media training is not doing in public anything that you don’t want to see published on the front page of newspapers around the globe.  How is it possible that they were not advised by a media specialist that this could be offensive to the Chinese, who are very nationalistic? How is it possible that no one in Spain realized that this picture would not bee seen in China as a simple and harmless joke?  How is it possible that no one remembered that until a mere few decades ago, the Chinese were banned by the European powers stationed over there from entering certain areas in their own country?  Don’t they know that there used to be posters that read “Dogs and Chinese not allowed”?  Many Chinese feel that they are not getting the respect that they deserve and now, as they become an economic world power, all issues dealing with nationalism are extremely delicate for them.  In other words, it isn’t advisable at all to go to the Olympic Games being held in Beijing to make jokes about the Chinese that they could interpret as offensive.  It doesn’t matter that they don’t have the same connotation in Spain.  What is important is how it is going to be perceived in other countries.  In this case, in China. With this, unquestionably, Spain’s image was damaged in the so-called Asian giant.  It wasn’t on purpose. The athletes of course didn’t mean that. It happened out of ignorance and a lack of expert advice on the subject.  The Spanish athletes and coaches were not advised correctly.  The photo of the Spanish athletes slanting their eyes felt for many Chinese like a punch in their stomach. And I don’t think that it is necessary to expand on the idea that it is not advisable to create a controversy that makes you look bad in a country of 1.3 billion people.

The personal and public performance by the Spanish teams during the Olympics was impeccable, but an incident such as this one was enough to tarnish their image before many Chinese.

Photo:  The Guardian, text of photo: “Spain’s basketball team posing for photo. Public Domain.”

But the problem is that the issue doesn’t stop there.  There have been several recent incidents of this nature that have added more fuel to the fire.

When Luis Aragonés was the coach of the Spanish national soccer team, EFE reported that during a training session he told José Antonio Reyes, a team member, to “Tell that black guy (referring to Thierry Henry, his teammate at the time in the British club Arsenal) that you are better.  Tell him I say so.”  The English newspaper The Guardian, wrote that what Aragonés actually said was “Tell that shitty black guy that you are better than he is.  Tell him that I say so.  You are better than that shitty black guy.”  Aragonés later vowed that he was not a racist, that some of his best friends are black and that it was only a joke to motivate Reyes.

Leaving this incident aside, I don’t have any reason to doubt Luis Aragonés when he says that he is not a racist, but had he been living in Great Britain or the United States, he would have had to immediately resign from his position.  And not just that, but, probably, he would have been sued for millions of dollars in court.  His comments were published throughout the world.  The coach of the most important team in Spain calling Thierry Henry a “shitty black.”  Another blemish for Spain’s world image.  Luis Aragonés should have boarded the first plane to London to personally apologize to Henry.  Explain to him in no uncertain terms that he is not a racist and that he was extremely sorry for what he had said.  That everything had been a misunderstanding.  A terrible joke that backfired.  But he didn’t do it and the problem just became bigger and bigger.  Aragonés needed to understand that it didn’t matter that he hadn’t meant to be offensive, but that the reality is that he was. And not only to Henry, but to many others, no matter their skin color.  In addition to the valuable lesson that one should never utter words that can insult others, there is another one: you can’t talk before the press in the same way that you would do with your friends while drinking a beer in a bar.  A bad joke goes to a very different level if the press gets a hold of what you said.

In Spain, as was the case with the photo prior to the Olympics in China, many people would not consider this an insult.  “He said it just as he could have said anything else to motivate Reyes,” they would say.  But there are two problems with this way of thinking.  The first one is that we live in a global community where anything you say is heard everywhere.  Literally.  And secondly, that those words denote a total lack of sensibility and understanding of other cultures.  Because those are very hurtful and offensive words.  If you say that someone is a “shitty black guy” in a country such as the United States, those could possibly be the last words you’ll ever utter.  Losing your job would be the least of your worries.

A mere few decades ago, blacks had to ride in the back of buses in the US, couldn’t use the same toilet facilities as whites and had to serve in segregated military units.  Nowadays they still suffer great discrimination and ethnic violence because of one simple fact:  the color of their skin.  A racial insult to someone from any racial group is always inadmissible, but to do so against a group that has suffered and continues to suffer such recent discrimination is even worse.  Anyone who hears Aragonés’ comments outside of Spain would think that he is a racist.  And if Spain keeps him as its coach after what he said, that person will also think that Spain is a racist country.  Connecting the dots on this issue is immediate.  And the saddest part of this story is that probably Luis Aragonés is not a racist at all.  But he made the mistake, first of all, of saying it, and second of all, of not apologizing personally to Thierry.  The sports authorities should have taken control of the situation and made him get on that plane to go apologize to Thierry.  Once again, lack of sensibility towards others, ignorance.  Again, Spain’s image damaged before the world.  And all because Luis Aragonés never had media training.  Both from a technical as well as a cultural sensitivity sense.  How would he have felt if someone from London had called him a “shitty Spaniard”? I wonder if the Spanish people really understand the consequences of these incidents.

Eto’o, a member of the Barcelona soccer team, was once about to leave the field, furious at the racist insults uttered against  him.  Something that clearly indicates the delicate nature of this issue.  Perhaps the fans use these racist epithets only because they know that these insults will unbalance the player and break his concentration.  If yelling out “torero!” had the same effect, that would be what they would yell.  But they need to stop and reflect carefully, that for individuals such as Eto’o, this is not a joke.  It’s an insult.  No one likes to be disrespected.  And these are precisely the details that the international press pays attention to.  Fans yelling out racist heckles, the coach of the country’s premier team calling someone a “shitty black guy,” photos of Olympic athletes mocking their Chinese hosts.  When there are so many incidents, people abroad ask:  is Spain a racist and xenophobic country?  The answer is NO, because it sends huge amounts of aid to third world countries.  The answer is NO, because its rescue workers are the first ones to help any nation in the third world that has suffered a natural disaster.  The answer is NO because its citizens mobilize en masse to collect funds to send to third world countries after, for example, they have been ravaged by a devastating hurricane.  The answer is NO, because it has received with open arms a true exodus of immigrants that have come to Spain in search of a better life.  And those are certainly not the actions of a racist country.  These are the actions of a country that wants to help others regardless of the color of their skin.  But the most eye-catching story in the international media isn’t that the Spanish rescue workers arrived before anyone else at the site of a disaster in Central America, but that Luis Aragonés called a black soccer player a “shitty black guy.”

And the examples continue to multiply.  Not only because of lack of knowing how to act in public and before the cameras, but also due to a lack of sensibility towards others.  Such as when tennis player David Ferrer, during this year’s US Open, and unhappy with a call from a female umpire told her:  “That’s to be expected, you’re a woman.  And women can’t do anything right, nothing.  They can’t do anything.”  Ferrer apologized immediately after saying this, but what was published in the newspapers were his denigrating words against women, not his apology.

Let’s look at another example of the lack of media training and the total lack of understanding of the consequences that everything we say can have.  After this year’s basketball Olympic finals between Spain and the United States, Spanish center Marc Gasol said:  “They were shitting in their pants.  If they deny it, they’re lying,” referring to the US team.

The US players, who are carefully trained to maximize their exposure with the press, only had words of praise for their Spanish opponents.  My question is, then:  Does Marc Gasol realize the consequences of his comments?  Marc Gasol is going to play with the Memphis Grizzlies next year, the very same team where his brother, Pau Gasol, used to play.  What kind of reaction does he think he would get from the Grizzlies´ fans if they knew what he had said about their national team?  Is it advisable to say that the US players were “shitting in their pants” when his salary is going to be paid by Americans?  Is it advisable to say something like this when he is being welcomed with open arms by the best basketball league in the world?  What would have been the reaction in Spain if the US players (who, after all, won the game) had said that the Spanish players were “shitting in their pants”?  Marc Gasol is very young and just said the first thing that came to mind, without giving it a second thought. It was a youthful indiscretion.  He didn’t mean to cause any real harm. But he needs to understand that it isn’t the same to say “we had them against the ropes and almost beat them” (which is true) than “they were shitting in their pants.”  These kinds of comments can put an early end to his career in a country such as the United States.  He needs urgent media training to prevent future major mistakes such as this one.  Especially if he is going to play and live in a country that is different from his own and with which he is not familiar.

Of course, this last incident is nothing compared with what Bobby Knight, the former US basketball national team coach, did.  In 1979, during the Panamerican Games in Puerto Rico, he was kicked off the court.  As he was leaving, he fought with a policeman and punched him in the face.  The Puerto Rican government asked that Knight be extradited to Puerto Rico to try him, but he, with an expert legal defense, never had to face charges.  He told Sports Illustrated, referring to Puerto Ricans:  “F—’em, f—’em all.… The only thing they know how to do is grow bananas.”

In closing.  Setting aside those who are clearly racist and that need psychiatric treatment, elite athletes need media training just as much as a politician or a business executive who are constantly before the cameras.  Not only for their own good and their team’s benefit, but for their country’s as well.  Not everyone is Rafael Nadal.

By:  Pablo Gato, Gato Communications