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This week is a scandalous sports week here on my website, which wasn’t planned, but yesterday my best friend sent me a link to a story written by prominent Oklahoma sports journalist, Berry Tramel, entitled “Baker Mayfield’s PR lesson: Own your actions”. If you haven’t read it, I highly encourage you to before continuing to read this post.
My beloved university has had a few football team scandals in the past two to three years. The two most prominent and recent are very different cases that bring about very different game plans, if you will. Unlike Tramel, I’m not saying one plan is better than the other because one was advised by a lawyer to not speak due to the nature of the case, while one was not (to my knowledge). But I’m not here to compare and contrast each case today. I want to focus on what went right with Mayfield’s response to his recent arrest.
Mayfield’s prompt transparency and remorse showed that he understands the gravity of his actions and acknowledges his indiscretion, which cultivated an attitude of forgiveness among the community.
I think the quicker the public hears from the guilty party the better. There is less time for speculation when you get your messages out before everyone else. Mayfield released a statement on Twitter three days after his arrest. My experience taking Sports PR with a director of communications for OU Athletics leads me to believe OU Athletics leadership probably had some influence on Mayfield’s quick response, but I also think they didn’t have to do a lot–if any–persuading to get him speak so quickly. Since the arrest Mayfield has displayed consistent regret and ownership of his actions and even took questions from media after practice this week. He wasn’t hiding or backing down, which are some of the worst things you can do in a crisis.
The public is pretty good at seeing through delayed, hollow apologies. By Mayfield, as Tramel put it, owning his actions the public was able to forgive and move on a lot easier because he’s learned his lesson. The public has this idea that it is their social responsibility to get justice and teach the guilty party a lesson. So when the guilty party beats the public to the punch, the public ends up satisfied. Mayfield is already paying the price of his actions. I’m sure he thinks about it every day and wishes he could take it back.
Bad decisions are easy to make. It’s the noble decisions that are hard. It takes a big person, especially in the public eye, to stand before everyone and take full responsibility for their actions instead of hiding away in embarrassment. I agree with Tramel that this was the picture perfect PR response for athletes. However without one key element, sincerity, the best tactics in the world fall flat. Yes, Mayfield screwed up, but I think the handling of the arrest aftermath speaks to the character of Mayfield. This 21-year-old executed a perfect crisis plan–and I think to Mayfield it wasn’t just a PR plan to reduce negative effects. In fact a PR plan may have been the last thing he considered his response to be. Instead it was a humble pursuit of forgiveness and the chance to earn the respect of the OU community and fans all across the nation.
Holly Hoehner is a public relations senior at the University of Oklahoma. She considers herself more of a Russell Westbrook than a Kevin Durant and enjoys learning about and participating in the digital age, blogging about anything that comes to her mind and creating witty Instagram captions. Holly was raised a die-hard Sooner fan in Edmond, OK.