For Buffalo sports fans, two fascinating events occurred almost simultaneously yesterday. One ended a crisis of conscience and opened a vast new world of athletic possibility. The other only prolonged a crisis for a team that long ago alienated the media and is fast doing the same to its fan base.
Both hinged on transparency — first in abundance; second, in absence.
Jason Collins, as you’ve no doubt heard, declared himself a gay man, the first active player in the four major American sports to do so. A twin, a Stanford grad and a journeyman player at best, he stood up for himself, honesty and humility. Two U.S. presidents and thousands of NBA stars, front office leaders, fans and people everywhere complimented his decision. Most everyone felt good.
Having lived for more than a decade in a crisis of fear as he moved through several NBA team lockerooms, Collins stood taller than his 7 feet and removed his mask in a Sports Illustrated exclusive. His honesty and courage are a clear clarion call to other gays in all sports to declare normalcy for their sexual preference. Baseball, football and hockey players will not be far behind. Nor should be golfers, NASCAR and Indy drivers, skiers, soccer players swimmers and the rest.
Surely there will be some ugly incidents ahead for Collins, but the near-unanimous support he received shows that transparency is a powerful nail in the coffin of prejudice and proactivity a great hammer.
Speaking of hockey, the Buffalo Sabres held a season-ending news conference yesterday and a fight nearly broke out. President Ted Black, left, lost his temper and composure just like GM Darcy Regier has already lost almost all public support.
The issue at hand is how do you clear a crisis. How do your leaders’ actions, their level of honesty and transparency and acknowledgement of failure position you in the eyes of fans and the media so you can get out from under the crisis and work toward improvement?
By those standards, the Sabres’ brass only made their situation worse. Last year, the executives took heat for not holding a season-end news conference. This year, they held one, but they obviously came unprepared. Or, if they thought they were prepared, events proved otherwise.
They either did not anticipate the questions they’d get, did not prepare effective answers for them, or thought they could dodge and weave like an Alex Mogilny rush and the reporters would stand back in awe like rookie defensemen.
They didn’t. Reporters smell blood in the water like their razor-toothed brethren from the sea. If you are going to swim with sharks, you’d best be ready.
Another aspect of crisis the Sabres leaders seemed to miss is that unless and until they address all questions, the crisis is not going to end. The only way to make the reporters go away is if they go away by their own choice.
Sabres Owner Terry Pegula botched a news conference a few weeks ago. He apparently does not see the need to answer for his franchise’s failings — despite personally setting the team’s bar as high as possible when he bought it. But his ongoing decision, perceived as hiding, no matter how unassailable inside the Sabres’ front office, remains and will remain a red flag in front of the reporting bulls. Only when Pegula sits down and answers their questions until there are no more to ask will that part of the crisis ebb.
This is an age-old dynamic. No doubt there are sharp people in the Sabres’ front office who know this and, we know for a fact, have preached it to the highest ups. But the crisis persists because the brass isn’t listening.
Jason Collins, transparent, fresh, praised. Crisis over.
Darcy Regier, muddled, confused, defiant. Crisis runs on.
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.