Maybe you’ve heard… Brewers left-fielder Ryan Braun was suspended for 65 games, the balance of the regular season, by Major League Baseball for violating the organization’s drug program.
While neither party specified the violations for which Braun was suspended, that Braun accepted the verdict without resistance gives the public a perception that he is guilty of using performance enhancing drugs or PEDs, accusations he vehemently denied since early 2012. In the PR world, perception is reality.
A 2012 prepared statement that Braun delivered to the Brewers and media prior to Spring Training was stacked start-to-finish with words like “integrity” “love for the game” and referenced his upbringing and – “everything that is important to me.”
“If I had done this intentionally or unintentionally, I’d be the first one to step up and say I did it,” he said at the time. Many Brewers fans believed Braun. His team and its management supported him. Then in January 2013 came word that a Miami-based Biogenesis employee had dirt on several Major League Baseball players, including Braun, and was dishing it.
Braun not the only one hurt by scandal
Monday, the other shoe dropped. On Braun. On the Brewers. On Major League Baseball. On Brewers fans and everyone who supported Braun. On businesses with which Braun is associated.
How will those who believed in Braun proceed? Will they continue to do business with him and purchase anything with his name? (As I write this, word has come that Braun has lost at least one endorsement as privately owned convenience store, Kwiktrip will no longer use him as a spokesperson.)
To read words on a piece of paper, Braun didn’t actually admit to using PEDs: “I realize now that I have made some mistakes.” But remember, perception is reality to those who buy jerseys, game tickets, baseball cards and other memorabilia.
A reputation sinkhole
Remember Lance Armstrong and his years of performance-enhancing denial? Well, many have paralleled Braun and Armstrong. Talk about a reputation sinkhole. Not only are sports fans comparing these athletes’ dismissal of using performance-enhancing drugs, but they’re attacking their similarities in attitude. They’re calling him arrogant. Braun has not apologized. By reports, he continues to deny.
A PR problem for the long haul
If there was any doubt, Braun has a public relations problem. He will always have one. His reputation is tarnished. For all intents and purposes, unless he tells us differently and somehow proves it, he lied. As one of my peers shared with me and I have said many times, cover-ups — lies – are often worse than the “crime” itself.
Can Braun ever dust himself off and reemerge from the muck under which he buried himself? Maybe. Sort of. I say that, because again, in the eyes of thousands of baseball fans, he is guilty and many say he should never return to the game. Ever.
The public has not heard from Braun other than the crafted MLB statement released Monday. He needs to get in front of a camera and if he has a defense, use it. More importantly, apologize to all of those his actions hurt: the Brewers organization, club management, owner Mark Attanasio, his teammates, fans, the drug-testing specimen collector and yes, his family that he essentially said taught him life lessons. His comments must come from the heart. Unscripted. If he remains quiet, which many PR specialists and attorneys may say he should so that he doesn’t further incriminate himself, he allows the public to further speculate what he actually did. As we’ve learned in the Social Media Era, if you don’t talk, someone will talk for you.
Time to admit wrongdoing is when it’s publicly revealed
The time for squashing a crisis at its onset is long past. Braun should have owned up to his “mistake” in 2011 and 2012. He would have likely been suspended, but he and the Brewers could have already moved past this transgression. Instead, an organization, a fan base and yes, an athlete, is dragging this out longer than it ever should.