Rebranding the discussion on rebranding: The dark side of popularity, perception, and greatness (Part 1)

I’d like to take a second to point out some missing and under-looked arguments from Jon’s piece on rebranding. I know that he was focused on a different point, and would likely agree with me, but I’m more of a cynic, so I thought I’d pen this post. I agree that rebranding can be great for a player or organization, but sometimes successful rebranding means that society and values lose.

Second chances are for those who deserve them, and it all depends on three things: the victim of the crime, your response to the allegations/convictions, and how talented you are.

Victims

This is less about physical persons than the sphere or realm that it occurred in. It’s ironic that the public is more likely to forgive transgressions off the field than crimes against the sport. It is easier to rebrand yourself after killing someone than if you doped or bet on baseball. Ben Johnson and Marion Jones doped, Mike Tyson and Ben Roethlisberger are alleged rapists, and who is still on top? Farve admitted to opiate addiction and sexted unwanted dong pics, Sosa, McGuire, Bonds, and Clemens doped, and who’s going to make their hall of fame? For further illustration, let’s look at Lance Armstrong and Tiger Woods.

Tiger cheated on his wife, leading to the collapse of his entire life and empire, but he atoned and charged back to the top of the PGA tour, bygones now bygones. Lance, on the other hand, cheated the game. His systematic doping tarnishes his greatness, it cheapens his legacy, and it destroys his legend. His offense negates what made him great in the first place. Tiger’s crime wasn’t against golf, it was simply being a shitty husband. Because of this, his greatness can be redeemed with a return to excellence on the golf course. Lance’s only chance at redemption or rebranding would be to win the Tour de France again while certifiably clean, which he couldn’t do with his lifelong cycling ban.

It’s interesting that Tiger has been able to rebrand himself as a competitor who has overcome struggles in his life, while Lance will forever be named a cheater. Lance’s crimes had arguably less impact on others than Tiger’s, but the victim was the sport itself. It’s almost as if killing the dreams of a young boy is more damaging to the brand of professional athletes than killing an actual person[j1] .

Response

How you respond to being caught is also an important factor in the rebranding of an athlete. To be forgiven of a transgression, you have to atone and be rehabilitated. Denying and flinging mud makes it harder to be forgiven if you’re guilty. Again, Lance did just about everything wrong by denying it to the bitter end, then giving a brash and unconvincing apology with Oprah that wasn’t altogether forthcoming.

A good example of sucking it up, accepting punishment, rehabilitating, and being rewarded is Michael Vick. He was convicted; sentenced, served his time, started a charity to make amends, and came back to football. Sure, he’s not nearly the same dynamic player as he was when he first achieved greatness, but his potential allowed him to reclaim greatness.

There’s also the religious angle to the response. Ray Lewis apologized to the high heavens and people forgave him his transgressions. Regardless of the truth, Ray Lewis will forever remain linked to a double murder that remains unsolved. At best, he has obstructed justice, and at worst he committed murder, yet his incredible talent and recent Super Bowl victory allow him to rebrand as the best linebacker ever, because too many people agree with Lewis when he says: ‘[God] don’t use people who commit anything like that for his glory.’ God has given him a pass, so should we.

Future Opportunity for Greatness

There is a reason that Ray Lewis and Michael Vick have achieved some sort of redemption through rebranding while Pete Rose and Lance Armstrong haven’t, and it’s extremely simple: Lewis and Vick had enough talent and opportunity to bury their transgressions under more accolades and wins. Kobe Bryant and Ben Roethlisberger, both accused of sexual assault (though never convicted), were able to bury their sins under NBA, Olympic, and NFL championships.

Pete Rose and Lance Armstrong got caught at the end of their careers. No more hits from Rose, no more yellow jerseys for Armstrong. The sports world is a constantly shifting landscape, with attention and respect paid to those who can win for you then and there. It’s the ultimate “what can you do for me now.” Transgressions are transient if you have potential for greatness.

In summation, you can rebrand yourself as an athlete if you commit your crime outside of the sport, if you are (or at least appear) contrite and apologetic, and if you can keep winning. A lesson for all kids growing up with dreams of being stars: if you goof up and kill someone, it’s cool, just apologize and keep winning.

~ Conor Mannix

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