Pay for Play: Analysis of the Image Restoration Strategies of High Profile College Athletes

By Jacob H. Selzer
Elon Journal of Undergraduate Research in Communications
2013, Vol. 4 No. 2 | pg. 5/5 |

IV. Findings

An analysis of the crisis management strategies of Terrelle Pryor, A.J. Green, and Cam Newton in the wake of high-profile scandals reveals a clear use of traditional image restoration techniques and significant knowledge about the current college athletic landscape.

The fallout of these three scandals clearly demonstrates the staggering level of prominence that college athletics has risen to. Despite the fact that these young men are generally between the ages of 18 to 22, their actions are heavily scrutinized not only by the NCAA, but by the national media and fans across the country as well. This scrutiny has grown to the point that when a scandal does emerge, as it did with these three athletes, it receives a national spotlight and demands acknowledgement. Pryor, Green, and Newton, along with several associated parties, were forced to respond to their respective scandals while facing this spotlight and pressure.

All three of these athletes clearly exemplify Benoit’s theory of image restoration in varying respects. Pryor and Green followed similar patterns in that they both issued statements in order to formally respond to the allegations against them. While the tactics they employed vary, there is a clear pattern associated with their initial responses. They both relied heavily on mortification and corrective action. They were upfront about their involvement in the scandal, acknowledged their wrongdoing, and apologized to the parties affected by them. In doing so, they effectively put the scandal behind them and shifted the focus of their statements towards the future. They then emphasized corrective action, where they promised to grow as individuals and make better choices down the line. Since Newton had already been cleared of his charges at the time of his first public statement, there was no need for mortification or corrective action when flat-out denial proved sufficient. Regardless, each athlete faced aggressive demands for explanations, apologies, and/or corrective actions following their scandals.

The fallout of these three scandals reveals a significant amount of the college landscape as a whole. The NCAA’s looming presence over its athletes and universities is glaringly evident through their actions. All three of these athletes only chose to speak candidly about their scandals once they distanced themselves from the NCAA. The NCAA’s presence also clearly affected the responses of the universities, as they remained fairly tight-lipped and attempted to stay out of the investigation’s way. The NCAA’s overwhelming influence and control over the college landscape is well documented through the fallout of these scandals.

The use of traditional image restoration techniques, in conjunction with the intense scrutiny that these scandals received, strongly supports the thesis of this research paper. College athletics have clearly risen to a level of distinction that requires its athletes to employ the same techniques as professionals when faced by scandal. From a public relations perspective, college athletes should be viewed in the same light as professional ones. Scholars have overlooked high-profile college athletes like Pryor, Green, and Newton, but the image restoration efforts of these athletes fill a gaping void in the established literature on crisis management within athletics.

V. Conclusion

The landscape of college athletics is a distinctly unique section of American society. College sports and the players that participate in them have been elevated to a largely unparalleled level of stardom. In the process, college athletics has become a major source of profit through its expansive merchandising, television deals, and other endeavors. Due to strictly enforced NCAA regulations, the athletes themselves are excluded from these profits. This, in turn, has manifested itself in a variety of ways into a major spike in illicit activities within college athletic programs. The scandals of Terrelle Pryor, A.J. Green, and Cam Newton all exemplify the fallout that inevitably follows these infractions.

Due to their national fame, Pryor, Green, and Newton were forced to respond to their scandals effectively. Their various responses demonstrate a clear use of scholarly image restoration techniques, which have traditionally been applied to professional athletes. Thus, it is overtly clear that due to the national spotlight that college athletics have been elevated to, college athletes should be viewed in the same respect as professional ones from a public relations perspective.

The importance and benefit of this research is twofold. The findings of this specific case study analysis shed important light on the college athletic landscape and the unique public relations efforts that athletes employ within it following a scandal. Perhaps more importantly, however, is the fact that this research serves as a foundation for a potential area of research that has been largely overlooked by scholars. Whether or not the college athletics system is broken is a debate in itself, but one truth remains overwhelmingly clear: Scandals within college athletics are recurring. The question has now become not if another one will emerge, but rather when. In the meantime, this research has the potential to serve as a powerful foundation for public relations practitioners, scholars, and the college athletics landscape as a whole.


Acknowledgements

The author is deeply grateful to Dr. David Copeland for his continued guidance and attentiveness throughout all phases of this research paper. The author is also thankful to Dr. Byung Lee for his assistance in the editing and publication process of this research paper. Finally, the author would like to express his sincere appreciation to Elon University’s School of Communications for all of the support its faculty has provided.


References

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“A.J. Green’s Playing Status Clarified The University of Georgia Bulldogs .”University of Georgia Athletics. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Apr. 2013. georgiadogs.com/sports/m-footbl/spec-rel/090810aad. html>.

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Benoit, William L.. Accounts, Excuses, and Apologies: a Theory of Image Restoration Strategies. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995. Print.

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Carter, Andrew. “Terrelle Pryor apologizes to Ohio State: Former Buckeyes quarterback Terrelle Pryor apologizes to Ohio State for scandal Sun Sentinel.” Featured Articles From The Sun Sentinel. Sun Sentinel, n.d. Web. 9 Apr. 2013. 1-06-14/sports/fl-terrelle-pryorapologizes-ohio-sta20110614_1_terrelle-pryor-jim-tressel-ohio-state>.

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Endnotes

1. Taylor Branch, “The Shame of College Sports Magazine The Atlantic.” The Atlantic — News and analysis on politics, business, culture, technology, national, international, and life â TheAtlantic.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Dec. 2011. < theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1969/12/the-shame-of-college-sports/8643/ >.

2. Taylor Branch, “The Shame of College Sports Magazine The Atlantic.” The Atlantic, College Football Bowl Games: Millions on the Line | AccountingWEB.com.” AccountingWEB.com | Your Profession. Your Community.. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Dec. 2011. accountingweb.com/item

3. Analyzed works include: Responding to Crisis: A Rhetorical Approach to Crisis Communication by Dan P. Milar and Robert L. Heath, Ongoing Crisis Communication: Planning, Managing, and Responding by W. Timothy Coombs.

4. Dan P. Milar and Robert L. Heath. Responding to Crisis a Rhetorical Approach to Crisis Communication. pg. 2.

5. Timothy W. Coombs, Ongoing Crisis Communication: Planning, Managing, and Responding. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 1999. Print. Pg. 2.

6. Steven Fink, Crisis management: Planning for the inevitable. New York, NY: AMACOM, re-quoted by Dan P. Milar and Robert L. Heath. Responding to Crisis a Rhetorical Approach to Crisis Communication. pg. 2.

7. Dan P. Milar and Robert L. Heath. Responding to Crisis a Rhetorical Approach to Crisis Communication.

8. Dan P. Milar and Robert L. Heath. Responding to Crisis a Rhetorical Approach to Crisis Communication. pg. 5-9

9. Toni Bruce and Tahlila Tini, Unique crisis response strategies in sports public relations: Rugby league and the Case for Diversion. Public Relations Review [serial online]. June 2008;34(2):108-115. Available from: Communication & Mass Media Complete, Ipswich, MA. Accessed March 6, 2013.

10. LeAnn Brazeal, “The Image Repair Strategies of Terrell Owens.” Public Relations Review 34.2 (2008): 145-150. Sciencedirect.com. Web. 6 Mar. 2013.

11. Mark P. Pedersen, Kimberly S. Miloch, and Pamela C. Laucella. Strategic Sport Communication. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2007. Print.

12. LeAnn Brazeal, “The Image Repair Strategies of Terrell Owens.” pg. 145.

13. Toni Bruce and Tahlila Tini, Unique crisis response strategies in sports public relations: Rugby league and the case for diversion, LeAnn Brazeal, “The Image Repair Strategies of Terrell Owens.”

14. LeAnn Brazeal, “The Image Repair Strategies of Terrell Owens.” pg. 146.

15. This citation encompasses the following section: William L. Benoit, Accounts, Excuses, and Apologies: Theory of Image Restoration Strategies.Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995. Print.

16. Blair Bernstein, “Crisis Management and Sports in the Age of Social Media: A Case Study Analysis of the Tiger Woods Scandal.”

17. Toni Bruce and Tahlila Tini, "Unique crisis response strategies in sports public relations."

18. Blair Bernstein, “Crisis Management and Sports in the Age of Social Media."

19. The following section utilizes information from: Taylor Branch, “The Shame of College Sports Magazine The Atlantic.” The Atlantic — News and analysis on politics, business, culture, technology, national, international, and life â TheAtlantic.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Dec. 2011 .theatlantic.com/magazine/ archive/1969/12/the-shame-of-college-sports/8643/>.

20. “Pryor announcement to be most anticipated in history.” CNN. 2008-02-05. Retrieved 4/18/13.

21. “Ohio State Buckeyes vs. Oregon Ducks Box Score January 01, 2010 ESPN.” ESPN: The Worldwide Leader In Sports. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Apr. 2013.

22. Brandon Castel, “Timeline on NCAA investigation.” NEWS. Ohio State Football, Basketball, Hockey, Baseball, Wrestling, Softball, and More. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Apr. 2013. the-ozone.net/football/2010/ SugarBowl/NCAAtimeline.htm

23. “Five Ohio State Buckeyes, including Terrelle Pryor, must sit out five games in ‘11 ESPN.” ESPN: The Worldwide Leader In Sports. N.p., 26 Dec. 2010. Web. 21 Apr. 2013.

24. The following quotes and information contained in this section were taken from citations 14-16.

25. “Terrelle Pryor apologizes, will enter supplemental draft ESPN.” ESPN: The Worldwide Leader In Sports. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Apr. 2013.

26. “WKEF-TV ABC 22 News :: News Raw News Terrelle Pryor’s Raw press conference clip.” WKEF-TV ABC 22 News :: Dayton, Ohio Local and National News. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Apr. 2013. http://www.newsnet5. com/dpp/sports/college_sports/osu/former-osu-quarterback-terrelle-pryor-apologizes-to-tressel-teammatesfans

27. Andrew Carter, “Terrelle Pryor apologizes to Ohio State: Former Buckeyes quarterback Terrelle Pryor apologizes to Ohio State for scandal Sun Sentinel.” Featured Articles From The Sun Sentinel. Sun Sentinel, n.d. Web. 9 Apr. 2013. 1-06-14/sports/fl-terrelle-pryor-apologizes-ohiosta20110614_1_terrelle-pryor-jim-tressel-ohio-state>.

28. Benoit, William L.. Accounts, Excuses, and Apologies: a Theory of Image Restoration Strategies. Pgs.74-82.

29. “A.J. Green Profile The University of Georgia Bulldogs .” University of Georgia Athletics. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Apr. 2013. georgiadogs.com/sports/m-footbl/mtt/green_aj00.html>.

30. The following quotes and information contained in this section were taken from citations 21-22.

31. Tim Tucker. “A.J. Green: I sold jersey for ‘extra cash’ during spring break | UGA sports blog.” Blogs about Atlanta news, sports and more | ajc.com, accessAtlanta.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Apr. 2013.

32. “A.J. Green’s Playing Status Clarified The University of Georgia Bulldogs .”University of Georgia Athletics. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Apr. 2013. < http://www.georgiadogs.com/sports/m-footbl/spec-rel/090810aad.html >.

33. Cam Newton | Auburn, QB : 2011 NFL Draft Scout Player Profile.» 2013 NFL Draft CBSSports.com NFL- DraftScout.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Apr. 2013. http://www.nfldraftscout.com/ratings/dsprofile.php?pyid=71142&draftyear=2011&genpos=qb

34. Charles Goldberg, “Auburn’s Cam Newton timeline: From recruitment to NCAA ruling | al.com.” Alabama Local News, Breaking News, Sports & Weather al.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Apr. 2013.

35. “NCAA investigating Auburn QB Cam Newton’s recruitment NCAA Football Sporting News.” Sporting News Real Insight. Real Fans. Real Conversations.. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Apr. 2013.

36. “Kenny Rogers: Cecil Newton put price tag on Cam Newton for Mississippi State ESPN.” ESPN: The Worldwide Leader In Sports. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Apr. 2013.

37. “Report: Cam Newton, father admitted pay-for-play plan NCAA Football Sporting News.” Sporting News Real Insight. Real Fans. Real Conversations.. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Apr. 2013.

38. The following quotes and information contained in this section were taken from citations 31-33.

39. “Auburn’s Cam Newton: I’ve done nothing wrong NCAA Football Sporting News.” Sporting News Real Insight. Real Fans. Real Conversations.. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Apr. 2013.

40. “Cam Newton confident in his actions at Auburn ESPN.” ESPN: The Worldwide Leader In Sports. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Apr. 2013.

41. “Auburn Tigers’ Cam Newton eligible to play, NCAA says ESPN.” ESPN: The Worldwide Leader In Sports. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Apr. 2013.

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