A-Rod ‘Saga’ Dominates Major League Baseball: Crisis Communications Management Gone Wrong? (Lessons Learned)

The A-Rod saga continues to be the biggest story in baseball.  Rodriguez is waging war with Major League Baseball and his own team, the New York Yankees as he appeals his 211 game suspension for his involvement in a doping scandal.  At the same time, Rodriguez is playing in top form as the Yankees are trying to stay alive for a wild-card berth.  Add to this, the fact the Rodriguez is 12 home runs away from breaking Willie Mays’ record of 660 and you have the perfect PR storm for everyone.

Pleading the Fifth, claiming to be a victim, and silence does not a crisis communications strategy make.  Rodriguez has never denied the charges personally nor acknowledged them and apologized.  Fans and sponsors are waiting to hear Rodriguez either issue a personal denial or admission.  Perhaps as a result of this, Rodriguez hired high profile attorney Joseph Tacopina, who launched a public relations offensive for Rodriguez.  Tacopina proclaimed Rodriguez was innocent and that there was a conspiracy between Major League Baseball and the Yankees to destroy Rodriguez’s career.  Then Major League Baseball called Tacopina’s bluff when he was being interviewd on The Today Show by offering to release all the evidence they had gathered against Rodriguez.  Tacopina balked at the offer.  As a result, Rodriguez looks even more guilty.  Compounding this is Rodriguez’s always frosty relations with the media.

So what, if anything should Alex Rodriguez do?

  • If innocent, deny the charges categorically and explain why he is fighting to clear his name.
  • Reassure sponsors
  • Answer every question the media throws at him at a press conference and then announce he will not answer any more questions regarding this issue until the season is over.
  • Have his attorneys take up Major League Baseball’s offer on releasing all the information they have, and have his legal team’s rebuttal released at the same time.
  • Have current and former teammates issue statements of support.
  • Do some talk shows on his playing career with the caveat he won’t answer anything on this issue.  Show a human side in these interviews.
  • Reach out to members of the media to soften that frosty relationship.
  • Make sure that all people speaking on his behalf and all social media outlets have the same and consistent message.

If he is guilty, he should:

  • Admit his guilt, apologize, ask fans to forgive him, and announce his retirement from the game.  He is 38 years old and nearing the end of his career. An admission of guilt or overwhelming proof of guilt will cloud everything else even if he resumed playing after the suspension.  He would forever be an asterisk even if he breaks Willie Mays’ record.  Sponsors would never want him.  Quitting now with an admission would be seen as the ultimate price and also the first step towards rehabilitation.
  • Go quiet for a period of 6 months or so.
  • Remerge with a series of interviews in which he admits his shortcomings and offers advice for young players.
  • Work with Major League Baseball in helping clean up the sport.

Major League Baseball faces a crisis if Rodriguez continues to play and breaks Willie Mays’ record of 660 home runs.  Do they acknowledge the event having issued a 211 game suspension on Rodriguez?  Do they ignore it?  If they ignore it do they look petty?  If they acknowledge it do they look comical and appear not intent on cleaning up the game?

Major League Baseball has a clear course.  It needs to be directed in its efforts to clean up the game and win the trust of the fan’s back.  It needs to:

  • Ignore the event and state that because of the suspension and underlying issues with Rodriguez, the record will not replace Mays’ unless Rodriguez is exonerated completely.
  • Restate their intention to clean up the game.
  • Highlight some of the icons of the past like Yogi Berra and even, Mays, himself, to draw a contrast with these players and Rodriguez’s conduct.
  • Restate their offer to release all evidence.
  • Schedule interviews by Commissioner Selig on the seriousness of doping in baseball and what MLB is doing on the issue.

And what should the Yankees do?

  • Categorically deny Rodriguez’s attorney’s charges and then refuse to engage in the back and forth.
  • Determine if they stand with Rodriguez and his fight.  If they do, give him the biggest ovation possible if he breaks Mays’ record.  If they don’t distance themselves as far as they can from Rodriguez.

The longer the A-Rod drama plays out the worst the PR fallout will be.  Some of the damage could have been prevented by a more cohesive crisis communications strategy by all parties.  Now each side is trying to mineralize what will be a major blow as the drama continues.

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