As of this morning, 74 of 123 teams in the big four American professional sports leagues released statements that condemned the murder of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis. Others, including corporate executives and business owners, have added words to the public record as protests that denounce police brutality continue.
One of a public relations consultant’s roles is to write and release statements for, and often in the voice of, organization leaders. Those may include more potent and introspective words than if those leaders spoke extemporaneously. Therefore, the statements you read may come from a sense of obligation and eloquence.
You may have noticed that comments made by white athletes and coaches have been particularly elevated this week, as few of them have spoken after racial incidents in the past, possibly for fear of retribution by teams and leagues. When peers like Colin Kaepernick tried to peacefully communicate that a racial virus was pervasive in our communities, white athletes and coaches for the most part, remained quiet. Maybe they thought it didn’t involve them. As a white person, I know how easy it is to become complacent when we don’t witness atrocities that happen in someone else’s backyard. If you didn’t get it in the past however-many-years you’ve occupied the planet, this is a wake-up call.
In my role as a publicist, I help people write statements of joy, sorrow and to prepare in case of crisis, so I won’t bemoan what’s been written and posted. I tell everyone with whom I work and on social media however, those words must mean something. They are hollow without action.
I’m glad to see more sports stand against racial violence this go-round, and we hope for the best for what follows. Some of the teams’ ownership groups have publicly supported interests that completely contradict their words, however, so even as a publicist, I ask myself how credible are the statements?
Sincerity and commitment to change will show in the next days and months if the words are true. If leaders listen, learn from and care about what they hear from people who have been victimized, their sentiments will have been blessings and skepticism will wane. The best PR is honest PR.
There is black and white
To put this in simpler terms – or black and white – it fools no one if Mr. Team Owner donates $1 million to a group that promotes diversity, then gives even $1 to a group that instigates divisiveness. We’ve called out similar actions regarding domestic violence policies in all sports. Hate is hate, violence is violence and if team leaders want the public to believe what they say, they will establish and emphasize new sets of values and not be coerced or smothered by anyone on the outside.
Work is ongoing
Our country is at what could be a turning point in history, and sports can play a key role in showing how different looking people can peacefully and respectfully share the planet, particularly those in positions of power. That doesn’t happen until people who may not directly be affected — white people — admit there’s racial disparity, and commit to change. Also, let’s encourage athletes at all levels to use their voices for good and along with coaches and managers, not be silenced by negative forces. Muzzles lead to silence and too often, ignorance. We’ve seen how well that works.
©Gail Sideman; gpublicity.com 2020
Photo: @thevoncomplex via unsplash.com