By Tim Baffoe-
(CBS) Maybe it’s because I live in Chicago and am so used to the “keep it in the family” information system of the Bears. Here our favorite football team — owned by Virginia McCaskey, daughter of George Halas — painstakingly works to kill any potential negative perception of its workings or personnel.
It’s all family and fun. Come down and watch practice and get autographs. Don’t ask the Great Oz about things off the field. Everything is a process. We are monitoring the situation. The player accused of a crime has been cocooned by our information staff. We won’t be discussing this ongoing matter. (Commence fight song music and a Gayle Sayers appearance.)
As training camp is underway, I have heard zero talk of the June arrest of defensive end Cornelius Washington for driving on a suspended license. Little was made or discussed of receiver Josh Morgan being accused of punching a valet a few months before. Once in a while, bad things happen involving Chicago football players, but the Bears do a fine job of making negative information go to a sort of PR purgatory. That’s how a company is supposed to do it.
Over Maryland way, not so much. Whereas the Baltimore and Washington, D.C. baseball franchises are on the brink of a public, dirty fight regarding TV money, one that some people tried to keep as hush-hush as possible at least, those cities’ respective NFL teams have decided to take the negative stories most recently affiliated with them and, instead of maintaining radio silence and letting the news cycle eventually flush it all, double down on the awfulness and appeal to the specific amoral-to-awful segment of fans who believe football teams and football players are absolved of all sins so long as they bring the football.
The Ravens and Washington’s team don’t care how offended or angered or conscientious you are. They don’t have to be, because there will always be enough psycho football fans, misinformed people ready to put their fears behind a martyr and a substantial Venn diagram of the two.
The Ravens’ PR staff has decided to go full heel since Ray Rice punched out his then-fiancée/now-wife. It began with the press conference May 23, three months after the alleged violence/videotaped dragging out of an elevator, in which the team had Rice’s wife, Janay Palmer, sit next to him while he made the situation about himself at the present. Not his actions. Not the victim, to whom he didn’t apologize that day.
“I won’t call myself a failure,” Rice said. “Failure is not getting knocked down. It’s not getting up.”
Then he had the woman who literally allegedly was knocked down with his alleged fist get up and apologize for her role in the incident. For allegedly literally being a victim of domestic violence.
Rather than distance itself from what at best was a pet store fire, the team’s Twitter account gave the web quotes from the brave Rice and the ashamed, beaten wife. It was theater of the absurd, and it showed the team wanted the world — the world being sociopaths who equate football to reality — to love its player and disregard the woman.
You’d want to think Baltimore’s PR people would’ve learned from the public scorn they received on the first one, but then the team’s Facebook account posted video of fans applauding Rice at practice. Its website promoted Ravens faithful welcoming their player back into its bosom, quoting fans who didn’t get punched unconscious by him who know what a good person (see: running back) he is.
All the while, Ravens coach John Harbaugh has gone out of his way to look like a completely insensitive idiot, saying Rice’s suspension is a “good lesson for kids,” how he’s proud of Rice for the way he’s handled all this and how Thursday he expects Rice to speak from the heart “just like you saw it last time,” when last time Rice was reading off of his cell phone. And you’re still able to purchase a Ray Rice ladies’ jersey — including breast cancer awareness pink — from the team’s online shop. So, yeah, it’s not much of a surprise that Rice’s Thursday presser did little to help him out.
Oh boy. Ray Rice just said he sees his family role biblically and his role is to lead his wife.—
daniel kaplan (@dkaplanSBJ) July 31, 2014
Turning to historical violence and present figurative punches in the face, the Washington football team continues to hear the outrage over its continued use of its racist nickname and sane, ethical reasons to change it, nods and then gives everyone the finger. Owner Daniel Snyder has failed in trying to silence media that points out how crappy of a person he is, so now he’s just getting in bed with a voice for the illiterate. His letter to fans is sadly laughable and fallacious. A tribe turned down his hush money.
Now Snyder has hired a big-time PR firm to try to sway more than just non-Native Americans who have illogical pride in the team name — a PR firm that has helped out Tylenol during the poison fiasco in the 1980s and the warm and fuzzy Blackwater. The firm runs a team name selective propaganda website that is advertised at team press conferences and Wednesday attempted to push its new Twitter handle and the hashtag #RedskinsFacts. It went about as well as attempting to get fans to attack Senator Harry Reid with the hashtag #RedskinsPride.
It’s interesting to watch the Ravens and Washington team go anti-PC PR. The former will presumably survive their domestic abuser scandal while contributing to the perpetuation of a culture of violence and fear directed at women. The latter will lose if only because Goodell no longer wants to deal with the tinfoil that Snyder and Co. continue to try to cook in the news microwave.
We can fault the Bears for being overly clandestine with team operations, football and otherwise. But watching the bumbling of the two mid-Atlantic NFL teams of late, it really makes you appreciate how golden silence can be sometimes.
You can follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe.