PR Tips: What Should NFL Players do in 2011?

The ending of the 2010 NFL season is quickly coming upon us.  Not soon enough for those of who are Bills fans.  And while the usual suspects are once again at the top of the league, when next August rolls around there is a strong chance that the players and owners will be at an impasse as to how to address the issues of player contracts, etc.

We’re on the edge of a lockout/strike, the two words that are going to be bandied about back and forth between the NFL and the NFL Players Association.  Athletes in previous strikes were not quiet about what they felt they had earned because of their skills and started talking on camera, and then lost any public support they had in their negotiations.

As an academic exercise, I’ve been thinking about what the players should do given the media storm that will start up as soon as the season ends.  Below are a few PR tips, this is not a complete list, but a starting point for a discussion.

  1. Take some time off – I know it’s going to be hard for you to understand, but don’t seek out the camera.  Let your agent, or better yet an actual PR professional (not one of your peeps) handle the media questions.  Eventually a player is going to say something that’s taken out of context that will hurt the negotiations between your representatives and the owners.
  2. Create one simple command message to give the media when you are asked: “To all of our fans, we are incredibly sorry that the owners have decided to lock us out and forfeit the 2011 season. We look forward to when we can be back out on the field entertaining all of you.”
    1. Period. That’s it. No discussion of the owners, their vast oceans of cash, their personal hygiene habits, the fact that they talk with their mouths full at dinner, or how that magic jumpsuit has been able to keep Al Davis alive after being clinically dead for so long.
  3. This is going to be hard for a lot of NFL players who are used to being the center of attention, but don’t talk about the lockout – period. Go back to the talking statement above, “We are sorry about…”
  4. Take a tip from the recent “Digital Death” campaign, get away from the social media a bit more.  I’m not saying stay off of it, but you’re going to be asked about the lockout, what your feelings are, why “rich, spoiled athletes are ruining the game we love so much,” etc. Don’t fall for the bait.
  5. Be seen in the community.  Not the community of sycophantic peeps that you’ve created around you, but your actual community.  What causes do you believe in (animal rights, poverty, education, etc)?  Why not dedicate some time helping your community out – above and beyond what the NFL appears to mandate you do. It’s a great way to build goodwill in the community, and it’s something you might want to start on now.
  6. I might have mentioned this already, but DO NOT COMMENT ON THE NEGOTIATIONS!  The owners realize that if they hang together, and don’t comment on the lockout outside of official spokespeople, that eventually one of the players is going to say something stupid (remember the NBA lockout? Latrell Sprewell I believe said something to the effect of “I have to feed my family, I need my millions.”)
  7. Each team is supposed to have one player represent them in the NFL Players Association. If anyone needs to speak for a team’s roster, let it be these players.
  8. This is possibly the worst economic time to negotiate from, the fans are not going to support you as much as you think because while you and the owners are fighting over a big pile of cash, fans are going to be busy trying to find jobs, to keep their family in their house, to pay for their kids education. And the owners are going to play the “greedy players” card on top of this.
  9. At the end of the day, it’s a numbers game – There are 32 team owners against hundreds of players. The odds of who will crack first and say something stupid to the media are slimmer for the owners than it is for the players.  It requires more than a bit of mindfulness on your part as an NFL player, but remember these tips in the upcoming negotiation period if you want a better chance of keeping the public on your side.

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