Michael Sam, a potential recruit for the NFL draft this year, has recently come out publicly. Since announcing that he was in fact gay, this story has been blasted in media, creating significant buzz and bringing the issue of gay athletes to the public realm.
It’s unfortunate that this announcement has to be such a big deal. But that’s where we’re at as a society I suppose… Which makes me respect Sam even more. Athletes don’t come out often. Brave guy if you ask me.
This is undeniably a situation that required/requires some public relations work. Howard Bragman, who has past experience with helping athletes come out, prepared Sam to make this announcement.
Reading the PRWeek article, “Five questions for Michael Sam’s Publicist,” I can’t help but feel an enormous amount of appreciation for the work that Howard Bragman is doing for Sam. There’s no doubt coming out in public has the potential to create a crisis situation. But Bragman’s planning and strategy did an amazing job of easing the tension.
So what does Bragman have to say about his plan of action? PRWeek interviewed him about it.
I won’t go over all of his answers in detail, as you can read the article for more information.
Bragman expressed that his main focus was to let Michael Sam tell his story in his own words on his own timetable. I couldn’t respect that more. This story really makes me happy with my profession and the good that can come from public relations.
He strategically selected the media outlets used to cover this announcement based on both their national influence, but also their relationship to the LGBT community. While ESPN was obviously selected because of its pervasive coverage of the world of sports, he also involved the New York Times because they have covered athletes coming out in the past. He had a specific reporter, which he had worked with in the past and knew could do this story justice. This is where media lists and relationships with reporters comes in to play. When facing a potentially damaging announcement like this, having strong relationships with influential reporters makes all the difference. Good thing to keep in mind going into a career in PR.
Bragman explained that one of his intentions with this announcement was to tell it quickly and on their timeframe. This was to avoid the story leaking and getting ahead of them. Surely this situation would have different ramifications if the story broke at the hands of someone else. That would have forced Sam to take the defensive. This is critical for avoiding public backlash and in turn having to involve crisis communication.
So how was the announcement received? According to Bragman, it was 99 percent positive. This is due to his ability to comprehensibly prepare Sam for the tough questions that ensued and also control the publicity surrounding the announcement. This made all the difference in making this announcement a historical win for gay athletes everywhere rather than a historical crisis.