Shaun White crashes, but can soar again through crisis management


I want to apologize for the unwise choices I made over the weekend and for any inconvenience it caused my family, friends, business partners, the hotel and their guests. I was celebrating a happy occasion with a ton of family and friends and got carried away. I’m truly sorry for my poor behavior.
Shaun White is a two-time Olympic gold medalist in snowboarding and in some circles a celebrity. Before Sunday night, he had a good-guy image. As his post above from Facebook demonstrates, he understands that he lives in a fishbowl, that his livelihood depends on his public image and shows to the rest of us that he has enough character to apologize.

Sunday night he got drunk, pulled a fire alarm, tussled with a Nashville hotel guest and ended up in the ER with a black eye after a fence moved too quickly for him to avoid it. He’s 26 and probably looking at the end of some lucrative sponsorships. And that’s surely motivation to publicly apologize on Facebook.

But it’s smart beyond that. It’s good crisis management.

Since snowboarding and jumping 30 feet skyward off a half-pipe doesn’t sell a lot of tickets, especially with global warming, his success is measured in endorsements, ads and reputation. He is, literally, his own brand.

According to his Wiki page, he’s been sponsored since he was seven. Today sponsors include, Burton Snowboards, Oakley, Inc., Birdhouse Skateboards, Park City Mountain Resort, Target Corp., Red Bull, Ubisoft, Adio and Hewlett-Packard. White also has his own character on the game Shaun Palmer’s Pro Snowboarder as well as the video game Shaun White Snowboarding and the upcoming video game Shaun White Skateboarding. In 2009, Forbes magazine estimated that he had earned $9 million from his endorsements in 2008. The fans of that list might actually like that he has a dark side.

But now he crapped the bed. His bed.

If, however, you look through the comments on his FB page, they are overwhelmingly favorable and inform and confirm what we teach at EMA: That if you apologize and mean it, most people will forgive a stupid, youthful, out-of-character, bad decision.

If, too, you only have to ask once. Repeat bad behavior [Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, Robert Downey Jr.] gets you a ticket to rehab and perp walks outside the Los Angeles County Courthouse.

But White has had a good record, worked with the right charities, kept his nose publicly clean. People are willing to forgive because they think they know the public persona. They’ve seen him interviewed and judged him before and after winning Olympic gold medals. They’ve been aware of his career. He comes off as a decent person.

He’s smart to apologize, though I’m not sure that people care that he was whooping it up with “family.” That almost makes his miscues worse, not better. [“If he does this with mom and dad and cousin Judy, what’s he like when he’s out at Aspen with the X-Games posse?”]

We’d have counselled him to be a little more direct and take responsibility more cleanly. I doubt he can blame his uncles for doing shooters with him. Man up.

Nonetheless, for the myriad celebrities out there who hide behind publicists and dark glasses, this is a smart move by a guy who probably will and should survive a single bad night.

As long as it’s only one bad night.

The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the Northeast and Southeast. Learn more about EMA at http://www.mower.com. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.

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About steveoncrisis

The content is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It comes from Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and as managing editor and editorial page editor at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower and Associates, one of the nation's largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agency with six offices in the Northeast and Southeast.
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2 Responses to Shaun White crashes, but can soar again through crisis management

  1. Chris Syme says:

    You’re right, Steve. He did the right thing. time will tell what his sponsors think. I tend to somewhat disagree with your assumptions about “manning up.” After reading the statement several times, what caught my attention was “I caused” and “I am truly sorry for my behavior.” Honestly, the mention of family never indicated, to me at least, that he was deferring or sharing blame. Also, I’m not sure about your assumption of family behavior. Celebrities think of families as a “safe house” of sorts, and tend to trust the environment, and thus can be themselves. I think unruly behavior in public is much more immature and disgusting than unruly behavior with your family. Just my thoughts.

    • Yeah, that’s a good point. I hadn’t thought of it that way. Almost — especially because White probably lives most of his life in hotels — like he was “home” because they were all there and would watch out for him.

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