Last week in Prof. McCann’s Sports Law Seminar, the class briefly discussed the Michael Phelps “bong hit” scandal.
Initially we thought that the story would pass without much attention. After all, he did admit wrongdoing. Some questions we asked were: What should the Olympic Committee do? Can the Olympic Committee do anything, since he has not actually failed a drug test? How should he have handled the situation? Should he have admitted that he made poor decision making? How will this affect his image? Will he lose sponsors? Who will take offense to this? Is marijuana a performance enhancer, i.e. for relaxation purposes?
However, as we began to discuss the issues raised above, we seemed to have more question than answers, as is the case with any discussion with law students. Still the class was generally felt that the story would pass.
One issue that I took a particular interest in, was how the Michael Phelps team will handle the situation now that the damage has been done. I am certain that at Octagon, Phelps’ representation, they are working hard with a team of lawyers, PR reps, etc. to find a way to manage the situation. The ultimate goal for Phelps and his representation team is to ensure that Phelps continues to be a marketing powerhouse and for him to continue competing.
As Laura Jeffords pointed out in her sports news weekly round-up, Phelps has already been suspended by the US Swimming team, and he has lost the renewal of his Kelloggs’ sponsorship. What further punishment has Phelps suffered? As Darren Heitner, from SportsAgentBlog.com has pointed out, Phelps has taken a bashing in the media. Not only in mainstream media, but the blogosphere as well.
This story continued in our class discussion today, as it is still a media headliner. We briefly touched on Kelloggs’ handling of the situation, and felt that it may have been done poorly. Typically the decision not to renew an endorsement deal is private, and Kelloggs’ decision to make their stance on this issue public may have further pushed this story into the media spotlight. Will other sponsors follow, or will the story fall into the media’s archives? Further, perhaps Kelloggs’ may have done damage to their own interests, as several Phelps supporters and sympathizers have called for a boycott of Kelloggs’.
In discussing the damage control related to the Phelps’ scandal, we began diving into the other scandal that rocked the sports industry this week. The failure of union officials to destroy the records of the 104 baseball players who had tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs. This ultimately led to the release of Alex Rodriguez’s steroid use in a SI.com article. How will A-rod, his representation, sponsors, the Yankees, the baseball unions, and the industry itself handle the situation? How will they conduct their own damage control?
Perhaps A-rod made the right decision by admitting his use of performance-enhancing drugs. He likely followed the model fellow Yankee, Andy Pettitte took after steroid allegations. He may also have learned from another former-Yankee, Roger Clemens, who took the other route in adamantly denying the allegations. Pettitte is still in baseball and has secured a 1-year deal with the Yankees for this upcoming season, Roger is still dealing with his media mess.
In light of the situation, I believe the Yankees are in the best position to handle the backlash of steroid allegations. They have certainly had the most experience in dealing with the media on this subject. The Yankees may also have the cushion in knowing that the allegations and admission point to steroid use while A-rod was on the Texas Rangers and not on the Yankees.
As for union officials, I agree with Marvin Miller, they have a lot of explaining to do.
The question that remains to be answered is how A-rod and his representation further handle this situation? Perhaps some of our readers have some insight as to the best damage control methods in light of such a damaging situation like this.