Sports and politics intersect on occasion, and the combination could conceivably aid a candidate for public office's efforts to stand out from his or her adversaries leading up to the election.
For United States Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), an ill-fated attempt at integrating University of Kentucky basketball into a campaign advertisement resulted in a nightmare scenario.
First, the ad showed footage of the wrong team.
Then, an attempt to plug in Kentucky freshman star Julius Randle as a quick fix turned out to be impermissible.
As POLITICO's Burgess Everett reported Tuesday, McConnell's latest promotional video featured a sentimental montage regarding the State of Kentucky—but in the split-second sports portion, it showed the Duke Blue Devils, not the Wildcats, celebrating their 2010 national title.
Big Blue Nation raised a banner to the Rupp Arena rafters even more recently by winning the 2012 NCAA tournament, yet someone on McConnell's campaign staff still made the gaffe.
Poor timing, too, considering the Battle for the Bluegrass between Kentucky and Louisville headlines Friday's Sweet 16 action. Kentucky graduate Allison Moore, who spoke on behalf of the McConnell campaign, explained the situation, per Sean Sullivan of The Washington Post:
The ad was intended to highlight Kentucky's basketball dominance and obviously the Web ad vendor has become so accustomed to watching national championship celebrations in the Bluegrass State that they made a mistake with one of the images. Obviously we were horrified by the error and quickly changed it.
What happened next in an attempt to cover up that blunder arose from good intentions, but was nevertheless unethical. CBS Sports analyst Seth Davis noted that including Randle in the video breaches NCAA regulations:
So Mitch McConnell used Julius Randle in an ad even though it's against NCAA rules? The week of a S16 game vs UL? That should go over well.— Seth Davis (@SethDavisHoops) March 25, 2014
Kyle Tucker of The Courier-Journal provided an update on the University of Kentucky's course of action in response to the McConnell campaign using Randle's image:
UK sent a cease and desist letter to the McConnell "and will continue to take appropriate measures" to prevent use of athletes' image.— Kyle Tucker (@KyleTucker_CJ) March 25, 2014
The university released a statement Tuesday evening on the matter, per CollegeBasketballTalk's Terrence Payne:
The University of Kentucky consulted with the NCAA earlier today regarding footage of Julius Randle in a Mitch McConnell advertisement. Although the use of the student-athlete’s image in the advertisement is not permissible, because it was done without the knowledge or permission of the university or the student-athlete, it is not an NCAA violation. The University of Kentucky has sent a cease and desist letter and will continue to take appropriate measures to ensure improper usage of a student-athlete’s name, image or likeness is prevented.
The McConnell campaign has already responded, according to Steve Jones of The Courier-Journal:
McConnell campaign sends release that is has resolved the matter over the ad with UK, has also reached to U of L to make sure they are aware— Steve Jones (@SteveJones_CJ) March 26, 2014
McConnell, 72, is the minority leader of the Senate. His likely opponent in the Nov. 4 election will be Democrat and Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes. Grimes has done herself no favors amid March Madness, either.
According to Adam Beam of The Associated Press, Grimes picked Kentucky to lose to Wichita State in the round of 32, which didn't happen, and has the reigning national champion Cardinals losing to Florida in the final.
As passionate as the State of Kentucky is about basketball, things such as McConnell's misguided ad or Grimes' unfavorable bracket could matter to voters less enthusiastic about current events or politics in general.
For others, from a purely political standpoint—especially the McConnell campaign—the hope is that the rebuke from the Duke/Randle fiasco won't impact McConnell's bid for reelection. The incumbent is running for his sixth consecutive term in office and should have the inside track based on his gaudy status and immense experience.
What McConnell and his staff may have to worry about more than voter backlash is the potential legal tangle with the NCAA, the University of Kentucky or both. The fact that McConnell, a Louisville fan, declined an invitation to celebrate the Wildcats' 2012 national title at the White House also doesn't help his cause here.