An Imperfect Portrait of Our Athlete Idols

We grow up idolizing professional athletes, and at some point, many of us have our hearts broken when we find out that the perfect picture we painted has flaws. For some, that picture was flawed when Tiger Woods confessed to cheating on his wife with an alleged ten-plus mistresses. For others the perfection became tainted the day Barry Bonds tested positive for steroids. Regardless, if and when that day comes, it blows your mind for a moment and forces you to inhale deeply and remind yourself that professional athletes are just that—athletes. They are not gods, heroes or even immortals. They are perfectly (or imperfectly) human. For me, that day was today.

On the heels of OJ Mayo’s suspension due to a positive drug test earlier this week, Diana Taurasi became the first prominent WNBA played to fail a drug test. A favorite to every women’s basketball player I have ever known, Taurasi has been the poster child for living and breathing the sport. The former UCONN Husky tested positive for modafinil, a stimulant that is often used for patients with narcolepsy.

Diana Taurasi

Diana Taurasi in action, courtesy of the New York Times

Although Taurasi adamantly denied the drug use and instead blamed it on the Turkish lab that ran her tests, the damage to her golden image has been done. This got me to thinking—what does it take to tarnish the image of someone in the public eye, and how can it be rebuilt? Or for that matter, can it be rebuilt?

Diana Taurasi is certainly not the first seemingly straight-edged athlete to test positive for drugs. Nor is she the only one of that group to claim false results. However, once the news has been leaked, the damage is done and it is time for crisis control. In the public relations world, this is a familiar task. Often times PR professionals are hired to clean up messes, whether they be public or private, corporate or individual. The question in this case is, what is the best way to go about it?

In the case of Ms. Taurasi and Mr. Mayo, our two most recent additions to the pile of imperfect pictures, this starts by issuing public apologies. In each case, the defendants instead chose to play the blame game. As previously mentioned, Ms. Taurasi blames her results on a lab mistake, while Mr. Mayo points to an energy drink he consumed from a gas station. While each of these statements may in fact be true, it could take months for the public to have proof, and at the moment they look like meek cover-up stories. Instead of pointing fingers, the best choice here might be to remind fans that they are the same athletes as before, and assure them that tests will be re-issued, even retaken if necessary.

Be accountable, ladies and gentlemen, and the cards will fall in your favor.

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