15 Sports PR Disasters

Gabe Zaldivar@gabezalPop Culture Lead WriterApril 23, 2014

15 Sports PR Disasters

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    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Well, that certainly seemed like a swell idea. 

    From teams considering a text message media blitz to organizations coming up with a hashtag masterpiece, we have compiled a fairly substantial look at some rather peculiar ideas gone very bad.   

    We do have to note that this list is hardly exhaustive. From the truly horrible to the benign, there are a ton of PR nightmares out there to discuss. For our purposes, we have left the most awful (such as criminal scandals) off the list. 

    For the most part, we have decided to err on the side of light and airy. 

    However, we would love to hear any disasters you feel should have been included. Otherwise, prepare to cringe while enjoying some public relations blunders so bad they are actually quite entertaining. 

Dwight Howard Saga Gets Awkward

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    The only thing Dwight Howard likes more than basketball might be other people liking him. In fact, that's kind of his hobby. 

    Back in 2012, his brand took something of a hit. OK, it basically hit a giant Stan Van Gundy-shaped iceberg. Coach Van Gundy, via ESPNNewYork.com, expressed that Howard wanted him out of Orlando, a sentiment that played out rather awkwardly in this video. 


Brett Favre "Pic-gate"

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    Associated Press

    Who would have thought one little text message could cause so much trouble? Oh, that's right. You did, but that's only because sports fans have experience watching athletes suffer from momentary lapses in judgment

    In this case, former NFL quarterback Brett Favre was taken to task over allegations that he had sent inappropriate missives to then-Jets staffer Jenn Sterger. 

    Lewd images would later reach websites such as Deadspin, and the Jetsand to a larger degree, the NFLhad a giant scandal on their hands. 

    One league investigation later, Favre was forced to pay the NFL $50,000 for not cooperating with the investigation

    At least we all forgot about his inability to retire. 


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    David J. Phillip

    NCAA President Mark Emmert isn't exactly winning any popularity contests at the moment, and neither is the NCAA, for that matter. 

    In fact, it would be best if both entities just hid in a corner for a spell in hopes of sports fans forgetting about their existence. 

    Or they could go the complete other way. 

    Emmert was on ESPN's Mike & Mike on April 18 to discuss a great many things, none of which interested fans. As Sports Illustrated's Nicole Conlan reports, Twitter was abuzz after organizers thought it was a good idea to make #AskEmmert go viral. 

    Well, it did, but not in the way the NCAA would have liked. Conlan rounded up a number of hilarious tweets. My favorite: "#AskEmmert remember that time you mismanaged a $150 million building project at UConn so badly the governor ordered an investigation?"

    It's the little things that make life so enjoyable. 

The Decision

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    We can't compile a list of sports PR nightmares without one of the biggest thuds to hit television. LeBron James and ESPN decided that it would be mutually beneficial to air the NBA star's free-agency decision. 

    While "The Decision" garnered huge ratings, it was a bust for James' image. Fortunately, he is the best basketball player on the planet, so most, if not all, stains from that ill-fated night have washed clean.  

    Let this be a lesson to the rest of you athletes. Unless you can dominate a sport like King James, stick to regular ho-hum press conferences to announce your next team. 

Chicken and Beer

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    Michael Dwyer

    Back in 2011, the Boston Red Sox suffered a brief and sudden collapse that saw them out of the MLB postseason that year. 

    As ESPNBoston.com reported, "While the Red Sox went from leading the Tampa Bay Rays by nine games in the wild-card race to missing the playoffs, [Josh] Beckett, [Jon] Lester and [John] Lackey went 2-7 with a 6.45 ERA."

    It's always nice to blame someone or something.

    The Boston Globe aided in that effort in October of 2011, profiling the team and its predilection for chicken, beer, video games and partying. 

    As you would imagine, it didn't sit well with fans. 

Ryan Braun's Denial

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    Deny, deny, deny.

    Unless, of course, you are an MLB slugger accused of using performance-enhancing drugs, because history tells us you will be caught. 

    In 2013, Ryan Braun was caught, and the Brewers star would later release a lengthy statement apologizing for, among other things, "some serious mistakes, both in the information I failed to share during my arbitration hearing and the comments I made to the press afterwards." 

    You can read the entire release at FoxSports.com, although Ken Rosenthal does bring up an interesting point: "Braun, in his statement, did not address recent stories from ESPN and Yahoo! Sports in which he was said to have told other players that he heard [Dino] Laurenzi rooted for the Cubs — a division rival of the Brewers — and was an anti-Semite."

    Sadly, this isn't the only time a star athlete would be taken to task for throwing others under a very large and highly publicized bus.

Lance Armstrong

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    Hey, speaking of which. 

    Lance Armstrong finally decided to come clean about his doping. Not surprisingly, that decision came after a wealth of reports alleging the former cyclist  had used performance-enhancing drugs popped up around the Internet. 

    Funny, we know. 

    That admission played out over a marathon interview with Oprah Winfrey, introducing the former champion as nothing more than the latest shamed athlete. 

    Of course, the most unsavory aspects of the story are the allegations of how Armstrong treated colleagues and workers. 

Cubs Mascot

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    Taking a break from relatively heavy fare, we give you the Cubs' decision to market a kid-friendly mascot—something that led to hilarious reactions and backlash all over social media. 

    To fans' credit, we don't really see a need for Clark here. But we do appreciate the team crafting a mascot that shares the same look of trepidation worn by most Cubs fans. 


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    We can go ahead and proclaim a sizable portion of Sochi mishaps as funny. The Olympics went over rather smoothly, save for one rather hilarious Opening Ceremony malfunction

    If you recall, the lead-up to the 2014 Winter Games was hardly a breeze. There were so many issues that the hashtag "#SochiProblems" reverberated around the world. 

    Remind us never to whine about the lack of a free continental breakfast at our next motel. 

Bills Texting

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    Rick Stewart/Getty Images

    Love for our favorite teams seems to stop at texting.

    ESPN.com's Darren Rovell reports that the Buffalo Bills are potentially on the hook for $3 million for sending volumes of texts to their fans: "Jerry Wojcik, who filed a class action lawsuit in 2012, asserted that he and others opted to receive text messages from the Bills but said the team sent more than it was allowed, per consumer protection laws."

    A similar story seems to be playing out regarding the Los Angeles Clippers. TMZ reported the following back in December: "An L.A. Clippers fan is suing the team .. claiming the NBA squad is responsible for SPAMMING his cell phone  ... and now he wants them to pay up, to the tune of $5 million."

    There is good marketing, and there is bad marketing. We will let you figure out what an overabundance of text messages might be. 

Lakers' Dwight Howard Billboards

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    The Lakers managed the equivalent of getting down on their knees and begging a player to stay, something that would have been unthinkable in the old regime. 

    Well, it's a new day in Lakers Land. Losses pile up, and star players decide it's far better to rock another uniform than it is to don purple and gold. 

    For the Win's Sean Highkin puts it rather nicely: 

    The Los Angeles Lakers also should not have to resort to billboards and hashtag campaigns to convince a superstar to re-sign. They’re the Los Angeles Lakers. They play in the second-biggest media market in the league (after New York), have won the second-most championships (after the Boston Celtics), boast an endless list of Hall of Famers and all-time greats who have worn purple and gold, and have missed the playoffs exactly four times since moving to Los Angeles in 1960.

    Of course, the Lakers figuratively standing outside Howard's house bumping Peter Gabriel didn't work, and Howard is now winning games in Houston. 

    It turns out that leaving the Lakers was a good idea. 

Tiger Woods' Scandal

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    Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

    If ever there was a horribly nasty PR nightmare, it was the moment we all learned Tiger Woods' squeaky-clean image was just thatan image. 

    Following a car crash and shocking revelations of Woods' extramarital affairs, the golfer would see his empire take a massive hit as it pertains to endorsements and fan approval. That, of course, goes along with the tumult in his personal life. 

    The Associated Press, via ESPN.com, reported at the time that Woods lost roughly $22 million in deals in 2010 because of the scandal. 

Bobby Petrino Scandal

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    Gareth Patterson

    While we are discussing seedy scandals, we might as well bring up one that hit a football program rather unexpectedly. 

    Former Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino and the Arkansas football program were rocked with scandal when Petrino crashed his motorcycle back in 2012, which ultimately led to revelations of a relationship he had with a staff member and allegations about how she received her job. 

    But just a couple of years later, Petrino is happy as can be back at Louisville. 

NFL "Bounty-gate"

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    Matthew Sharpe/Getty Images

    Affixing "-gate" to the back end of any word is never a good thing. That sentiment rang true when the NFL had to deal with the Saints' budding "bounty-gate" scandal in 2012.

    At the heart of the controversy stood Gregg Williams, who had started the "bounty" program. However, the overarching debate was how the sport at large would maneuver past a system that had evolved to include such a despicable practice.  

    Life goes on for the Saints and Williams, who is now the defensive coordinator for the St. Louis Rams. The hope, however, is that it's not business as usual around the NFL.

NFL Concussions

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    Allison Joyce/Getty Images

    We know we were attempting to keep things light (which possibly failed a few slides back), but we just had to include what we think is a real issue for America's most beloved sport. 

    Concussions, and player health in general, have become front-and-center issues for the NFL, culminating in the eye-opening documentary League of Denial: The NFL's Concussion Crisis, which served to cast a negative light on the league.

    Now, the league has to wait and see what comes of an ongoing lawsuit that hopes to take care of thousands of retired players. 

    Each report that comes out, including the startling revelation that former player Russell Allen once played after a stroke, forces people across the nation to wonder whether this sport is indeed too dangerous. 

    Unfortunately, this isn't the kind of issue that is fixed overnight or with a rule adjustment here or there. It must be addressed immediately, however, or the sport's vitality will suffer.