Archive for the ‘Collective Soul Blog’ Category

Standing Tall: Good News Out of Texas High School Football

It’s late September here in Texas — which means it’s almost October, the prime month for high school football and all its cherished traditions. It brings me back to dressing up every Friday before the game; staying up late decorating lockers with ribbons and candy; burning my fingers with the hot glue gun making a garter for my homecoming date; polishing my drill team boots in preparation for the biggest pep rally of the year, held in the town square, which the whole town would turn out to watch.

A recent Homecoming parade float from my hometown (image courtesy Star Local Media)

Walk into just about any recent Texas high school graduate’s closet, you’ll see pom-pom sized mums carefully hung next to letterman’s jackets, cheerleading skirts, jerseys, band uniforms — the whole nine yards. “Friday Night Lights” Coach Taylor’s iconic motto, “Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose,” — cliche that it has become — exemplifies the emotions that continue to drive us back into the bleachers year after year.

Recent news out of the NFL, however, have turned up well-known but previously little-discussed realities in the world of commodified sports, from which high school football (especially in Texas, where football is frequently likened to religion) is tragically not exempt.

On one hand are the troubling reports of brain damage in older players, the result of countless concussions sustained while playing this high-impact sport, which were highlighted in the “20/20″ documentary “League of Denial.” On the other hand are the Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson domestic abuse cases, in which young men whose aggression and dominance have been prized to the point of million-dollar salaries have translated that aggression onto their loved ones. Too often, officials and coaches, who would prefer not to tarnish the leagues’ reputations and their bottom lines, sweep these reports of disturbing behavior under the rug.

While the NFL, college and high school football leagues around the nation must continue to endeavor to find ways to make this sport safer — for all parties involved — I am encouraged by two stories from Texas high schools that came to wide attention this past week. The first is an impromptu motivational speech from Austin footballer Apollos Hester (as a side note, the fact that Apollos’ name derives from the Greek sun god seems to a coincidental testament to his sunny personality):

The other story comes from Grand Prairie, Texas. When a group of seniors decided to play a cruel prank by telling fellow high schooler Lillian Skinner that she had been nominated to the homecoming court, two of her friends made a secret pact. Having been actually chosen for the court themselves, Naomi and Anahi decided that, if one of them were elected queen, they’d give the crown to Lillian:

These stories demonstrate a timeless reality in sports as well as PR: that what we love about both sports and the news is that they bring us together. Bad news and bad sportsmanship divide, but good news, generosity and kindness unite. As Apollos would say, “sometimes in life, you’re gonna start slow. That’s OK…  You’re gonna go out there, you’re gonna battle, you’re gonna fight… Do it for each other.”

As we dust off our jerseys for another season of hollering for ours favorite teams, let’s look for ways we can bring the people in our communities together. That’s good news anyone can get behind.


A PR Strategy for the NFL: Embrace Your Role Models

I wrote a sports column in the weekly newspaper at my high school—I cleverly (so I thought) titled it “Gotta be the Shoes” from the retro Michael Jordan and Spike Lee commercial that asked why Jordan was such a great player. Young fans across the world put on their “Air Jordans” and wanted to “be like Mike.”

The fact is that we look up to our sports heroes. Because they possesses certain qualities that us fans would like to have — athleticism, bravery, good looks and fame – we look up to professional athletes as role models.

But I agree with Bart Scott, who said on “NFL Today,” “You set yourself up for disappointment when you place your hope in someone you don’t know.” In an ideal world, our role models would be parents, relatives, teachers or coaches. Regrettably, not all kids have strong models to look to, and let’s face it; those big, tough NFL players are kind of cool.

This has been a rough couple of weeks for the NFL. The Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson cases remind us that players and officials alike are humans who make mistakes.  Considering the NFL has 32 teams full of humans – who, like all of us, struggle with all kinds of weaknesses – this problem of our perceived role models making mistakes and disappointing us will not go away.

Again and again, I hear people come to a celebrity’s defense, arguing that individual did not choose to be a role model. While receiving role-model status is not necessarily a choice, being a good role model is a decision every individual in a public position will inevitably face.

The NFL has a choice, too—it has plenty of men who great things for their communities: volunteering their time, giving to charities and inspiring their teammates as well as the greater public. It’s time for the NFL to implement a new PR strategy highlighting individuals of integrity in their midst in realization that millions of people look up to their players as owners.

This isn’t easy. But when you’re the NFL, you can afford to get creative. Here are just a few ideas to make positive news I came up with when playing the game, What if I was NFL Commissioner.

  • Aggressively focus on the good guys. Charles Barkley said that, “when a jock makes a mistake we make them a poster child,” (for example making Ray Rice a poster child of domestic violence) yet never focus on the good guys. I would find some people that are “poster children” for the NFL and build a PR strategy to tell their stories
  • Utilize your celebrities. While positive stories are less often the focus of news media, positive stories involving celebrities have a much better chance at getting told and of people paying attention to them.
  • Make big stories with little changes. Though I am not entirely sure how it all works when it comes to suspending or fining a player, a way to turn a negative situation into a positive would be designating a specific charity as the recipient of a player’s disciplinary fines. For example, if Adrian Peterson is found guilty, instead of giving him his paid leave of absence, donate those funds to Children’s Defense Fund. This would demonstrate that the NFL cares less about the bottom line and more about the people that support them. Also, the NFL could offer contract incentives for players who win or are finalist for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award, or just offer extra incentives for hours spent in community service in general.
  • Halftime is The Time. Halftime reliably presents a captive audience; why not take advantage of the lapse in gameplay to showcase the role models on that team through video or story? Finding a way to creatively incorporate role-model stories into the Super Bowl halftime would send a strong message about the NFL’s priorities.

As a PR professional, I know that the media has a tendency to focus on the negative stories instead of the positive. How can you populate your world with positive stories today?