PR Lessons From A Tennis Star
Apr 15, 2016Posted by james
The sports world was shocked and saddened when popular tennis star Maria Sharapova announced that she had been suspended following a positive drug test. The public fallout easily could have vilified her as a drug cheat similar to Lance Armstrong, Alex Rodriguez and many other disgraced athletes. However, unlike the others, Maria immediately owned and faced the challenge to her reputation, her tennis career and her public legacy.
No denials came from Maria. She didn’t blame the sport’s federation, or her doctors, or the tests, or her coaches and staff. She handled the news of the failed test with skill and grace.
We all know the story. A drug she had taken for 10 years suddenly was unapproved by the Food and Drug Administration. The tennis governing board placed this drug on the list of banned substances as of January 1. Maria failed to reacquaint herself with the list.
Maria’s response should be viewed as a public relations lesson for other athletes and for any of us who might need to manage an internal or public crises for our business. Rather than deny or stonewall, we should seriously consider the identical pro-active steps taken by Maria–she got out in front of the story, she blamed only herself for the mistake and she openly addressed questions.
Maria’s reputation was bruised but not permanently damaged. The outcome was far less harmful than if she had waited for the news to leak and then responded with a terse statement issued through her representatives.
At her news conference, Maria took full responsibility for the mistake and for her choice of the medications that enter her body. She apologized for disappointing her fans and the sport.
Coming out of this possible career-ending circumstance, Maria’s return to the court remains in jeopardy. She did loose several major sponsorships. But, her personal reputation, based on her immediate action, remained solid. She stated that she felt her decision to speak publically and quickly was the correct response, “because throughout my long career I’ve been honest about many things.”
Maria handled this crises moment perfectly, really as best as it could be handled considering the circumstances. We all need to learn a lesson from Maria—get out in front of any crisis and handle each one with integrity.