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“We were wrong” only begins to address Houston Astros’ PR problems

It’s been a bad week of publicity for the Houston Astros, the least of which involves two home losses in their opening World Series games against the Washington Nationals.

The Astros ills have all been public relations related. They began with a front office official behaving badly in the clubhouse after his now former team secured the 2019 American League crown, others crafting and denying his comments, and statements that caused some of us to try to figure out who wrote or approved them to be released.

It came to a head when assistant general manager Brandon Taubman, who created an unseemly scene in front of reporters last weekend, was fired after what was described as a joint investigation between the Astros and Major League Baseball.

Taubman’s outburst reportedly targeted three women, one who wore an anti-domestic violence bracelet, and was about pitcher Roberto Osuna who served a 75-game suspension for allegedly assaulting the mother of his then-three-year-old child in 2018. It was “offensive and frightening” according to Sports Illustrated reporter Stephanie Apstein.

Instead of initially apologizing for the episode, the Houston club attacked the person who reported it. It called the SI report “misleading and completely irresponsible,” which understandably drew outrage among male and female journalists and the public. As Astros players were waiting to be introduced to World Series audiences, the overwhelming storyline continued to be Taubman’s behavior and club personnel trying to cover for him.


The Astros, after several missteps which will stain the Houston clubhouse at least the rest of this season, today finally admitted they were wrong when they announced the assistant GM’s firing. They however, didn’t address why they danced around and denied Taubman’s comments, and worked to discredit a respected reporter. It was one of the worst examples of sports crisis PR in recent history.

So lessons from the Astros, which still have a lot of scrubbing to do to restore a semblance of public credibility:

Only if you want to show ignorance and disrespect — Of course you don’t. So don’t criticize, condescend or publicly call into question a reporter’s credibility because she wrote something you don’t like.

Investigate quickly — Say that you’ll immediately look into the event and withhold further comment until after a prompt investigation is completed.

Tell the truth — As in don’t lie. Don’t say something happened/didn’t happen when there were several witnesses with recorders and pens in the room.

Get ready to own it — If you sign an athlete or another employee that’s serving a suspension for alleged wrongdoing, you may as well own it. No one will believe that you brought that player in for any reason other than to win games and stuff your bank account. Any other excuse will sound more cowardly than the signing.

Don’t try to justify a bad move with donations — Do not promote that your organization donated x-number of dollars to a non-profit whose cause your recent hire just pooped upon.

The bottom line is that after days of missteps, misleads and outright denials, the Astros did what they had to do to divert short-term chatter and stem the PR fallout from Taubman’s actions. Longer term, there’s still a lot of work to do.

Editor’s NoteIf you wondered if the Houston MLB team could handle anything else badly, you only had to wait an hour after this post was published to see the Astros continue to botch its attempt at PR redemption.


©Gail Sideman; 2019

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