A reputation is easy to make but hard to change.
Whether it is a positive or negative perception of a person, it is very easy to blanket labels and characteristics about somebody. The hard part is looking deeply as to why a person is the way they are. When a friend or a member of the family does something, that one aspect can be overblown and a reputation sticks.
Most of the time, that person is never taken in a different light and that shadow always surrounds him. In sports, however, athletes that have character issues on and off the field can transform their status just by winning.
One example is Kobe Bryant. In 2003, he was charged with sexual assault with a mistress at a hotel in Colorado. He came out in a press conference and stated that he committed adultery, but did not sexually assault her. During this time in his life, people were having second thoughts about the person that Kobe really was. Endorsements were lost and his reputation took a huge hit.
We had always seen him as the young, talented player who was becoming the best player in the NBA. During the trial, boos were heard constantly by fans because of the aftermath. His jersey sales took a dive as well.
Soon after, the charges were dropped and the news media surrounding the case died out. A year after the allegations, Bryant signed a $136 million contract and regained the endorsements from Nike and others.
He changed his number from 8 to 24, which also was very strategic on his part to put his past in the rearview mirror. When the Lakers started hoisting the Larry O’Brian trophy multiple times, the perception of Kobe went from villain to hero very quickly. He once again tops the league in jersey sales.
Recently, Kobe can be seen in the Call of Duty Black Ops commercial. That game is the best selling game in history already! That is a 180-degree turnaround from 2003.
Ray Lewis, who is one the most feared and respected players in the NFL, had the same problem. In 2000, Lewis was indicted with three others on murder and assault charges. The charges were dropped but the perception people had was still there. The very next year, the Ravens reached Super Bowl XXXV. They won and he was named the game’s MVP, but was not invited to Disney World because of his past decisions and miscues.
Now, Lewis is the face of the Ravens and the NFL. He works heavily in charities and foundations in the Baltimore area. With the past is behind him, companies like Under Armour and Old Spice use his likeness more than any other athlete. Since he has carried the Ravens on his shoulders and his production has never decreased, his past is dust in the wind.
The same series of events are happening to Michael Vick.
He was on the Madden cover early in his career and was on top on the world playing for the Falcons. Every kid wanted to be Michael Vick and his marketing status was off the charts until he was charged with running a dog-fighting ring in 2007.
People questioned his character, which was rightfully deserved. The fall of a great athlete was there for everybody to see. Nobody knew what would become of the potential he had after prison.
The Eagles decided to take a chance on Vick. Andy Reid saw that he had matured and needed somebody to give him a second chance.
He is having an amazing year this year and is in the running for the MVP. He is speaking in schools and is an activist for the Humane Society now. His accomplishments are changing his reputation at an alarming rate. If he keeps up what he is doing on and off the field, it will be a truly American story of redemption.
Athletes have a much easier time changing their reputation when they are on top of their game. Even though their past can be haunting, recent success covers the mistakes and missteps of their past. If only society as a whole could give people second chances as easy to the average guy as celebrities and athletes, many former criminals, adulterers, and felons could turnaround their lives easier and be productive citizens again.