Imagine you’re just six days away from starting in the most important game of the season – a game that is one of the most watched American television broadcasts of the year, has inspired a de facto national holiday, has the potential to give your fans bragging rights for a year, and is surely going deliver endorsement opportunities on a silver platter – the Super Bowl. Now imagine it’s the day set aside for you to talk to the press about everything from how awesome you are to your dinner plans. Then, when asked a question about next year’s Super Bowl, which will be hosted at MetLife Stadium, you say: “I think [having the Super Bowl at a cold-weather site is] retarded. I probably shouldn’t say that. I think it’s stupid.” Please don’t be surprised when the general public reacts like this.
We all make mistakes, but Baltimore Raven’s starting quarterback, Joe Flacco, should have known better – especially considering his ties to the Special Olympics. It’s bad enough that the star uses a word on the offensive side of politically correct, but he literally equates that word (and, for some, the corresponding community) to mean “stupid” in his backpedal. No, this doesn’t mean that Flacco thinks those with special needs are stupid (just that a cold-weather Super Bowl is), but when a star quarterback – a public figure – speaks directly to the press and hands them this story, we can only shake our heads.
Messages that are clearly and purposefully delivered are messages the public will hear, but there’s always a risk that those messages will be re-interpreted, taken out of context and echoed about. Words must be chosen carefully. Rather than hearing Flacco’s explanation or his eloquent responses to other hard-hitting questions, his audience focused mainly on the insensitive flub.
This is why media training is so important, especially when the spokesperson represents an organization. Media training helps public-facing individuals hone their messages, presentations and speaking styles to ensure a positive impression. It can also help set expectations, prepare those individuals for the unexpected, and outline the potential impacts of both what they do and don’t say.
Instead of spending the week before the big game basking in the Big Easy, poor Flacco is sitting in the hot seat, likely losing sleep and offering up apologies thanks to a terrible response to a simple question. Time will only tell how the things that he “probably shouldn’t say” will impact future opportunities, the team’s image and Flacco’s “great relationship” with the Special Olympics in Baltimore.
The world of professional sports is notorious for the cringe-worthy things its players and coaches say every so often, and a number of organizations (including the NFL) do require some form of media training as a result. But Flacco’s response to a predictable question serves as a cautionary example of how preparation before an interview and editorial awareness can help manage reputation and prevent negative impressions.