Karen’s PR & Social Media Blog

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January 16, 2013

Reputation damage and implications in sports: Lance Armstrong Case Study

Marion Jones. Mark McGuire. Barry Bonds. Floyd Landis.  All of these athletes have accomplished great things in their related sports, but they all share one thing in common.  They were the face of their respective sports at one point in their careers,and they all admitted to using performance enhancing drugs.

Now, there is one more athlete to add to this list.  Lance Armstrong has finally announced his role in taking performance enhancing drugs while competing in cycling, including his seven Tour de France titles.  Armstrong has battled the controversy and accusations of this issue for years – even going forward with interviews defending himself against these doping allegations.  Here is a link to an interview with ESPN back in 2006 with Lance Armstrong:

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Just this week, Lance Armstrong has come forward with his first public acknowledgement of taking performance enhancing drugs during his time competing in cycling with Oprah Winfrey. Many got to see the reactions and conversations emerge on social media, particularly on Twitter. Some have been very candid on what they think of Lance and his actions, which have been documented in a Storify by PennLive in case you would like to see some of these for yourself.

With this case, there are of course several PR, social media, and crisis points to address and discuss.  Here are just a few I thought were relevant to mention:

  • Selection of Media Channel:  People thought it was interesting to see Lance deciding to make his first announcement regarding this issue not to the authorities in the athletic industry in this matter, but with Oprah.  Why?  Lance can get his story across while Oprah can be part of one of the biggest stories so far this year in 2013.
  • Reputation implications across many parties and industries:  Livestrong is one that has stated publicly they want the truth about what was going on with Lance, but there are other parties involved here as well. Implications for the cycling sport itself as well as other athletes should also be considered. They also released an official statement regarding the incident on their blog to address the number of media inquiries about this situation.
  • Cheating to Win Mentality:  Ethical considerations have to be considered with this case.  Lance stated in this interview he used performance enhancing drugs because he wanted to win. What type of message does this send to not only fellow athletes, but youth and others who placed Lance in high esteem?
  • Reputation can be damaged by one incident: Warren Buffet once said “it takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.” This is definitely apparent in this case here as well.  Lance did a lot of great work in raising awareness about cancer research and was the face of cycling – however, these actions have damaged his reputation as an athlete as well as a person.

In summary, this case will continue to raise further discussion and awareness about the power of a reputation as well as the implications of what happens when you are involved in a crisis.  Social media will continue to be a platform where people come together to voice their opinions about a variety of topics ranging from brands to people.

This is a growing issue in sports – as fans and the rest of the public, we want athletes to achieve impossible expectations in their sports while also presenting themselves in a positive image among their key audiences.  However, are these expectations not realistic and can any athlete meet up to them? What about the role of the PR person who is representing these clients – if we know that the image if false, what is our professional and ethical duty?

These are just some of the questions I believe the PR, reputation management, social media, and crisis communication community need to discuss to touch on these issues that keep up appearing in the sports industry.

Hope you all are having a great day.

Best Wishes,

Karen

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