The Detroit Tigers and Delmon Young: Walking the PR Tightrope

Delmon Young (courtesy of USA Today)

Detroit Tigers’ outfielder Delmon Young was reportedly involved in an alcohol fueled incident that landed him in police custody last Friday.

According to a report in the New York Post, a well-inebriated Young shouted anti-Semitic slurs at a group of people outside a New York hotel before physically assaulting one person.

Young has since been suspended for seven days without pay by Major League Baseball and faces criminal charges.

As of Wednesday, Young has still not spoken to the media.

The day after the incident, Young did give an apology in a written media statement. But was this enough?

From a public relations standpoint, the obvious answer is no. But when there are legal matters involved, is the right move for the Detroit Tigers PR team to put Young in front of media to answer questions?

Or should Young remain silent on the issue to avoid further implicating himself legally?

This is a situation in where lawyers and PR representatives must work closely together to make sure Young’s image with fans isn’t destroyed while making sure they look out for his legal well-being.

These are the types of situations that are most difficult for PR practitioners.

In PR, the best advice most of the time in crisis situations is to comment and answer questions as quickly as you can to quell media pressure.

The longer you go without addressing the alleged wrong-doing, the guiltier you seem on the public stage.

This is the case with Delmon Young. Every day that passes without Young answering questions and explaining his side of the story will make it harder for fans to forgive his alleged behavior. Young needs to face the media soon. But can he legally?

Although Young can and probably should talk to the media, there may be several things linked to the legal case that he may not be allowed to talk about.

But instead of staying silent, it would be wise for Young to answer the questions he can’t legally answer with a comment like this: “As of right now, I can’t answer questions relating to my pending legal matter.”

Young needs to answer some basic questions and give fans a reason to be able to keep rooting for him. If the allegations are indeed true, I would think most fans would find it hard to cheer someone who would yell ethnic slurs at someone in public. In cases like this, a sincere on camera apology can go a long way. In baseball, there have been a few recent examples that prove this point.

Texas Rangers slugger Josh Hamilton’s recent relapse with alcohol shocked and disheartened fans. But Hamilton was quickly forgiven after a sincere meeting with reporters in which Hamilton talked about his struggle and how he is working every day to become a better person.

Another example is Miami Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen’s recent comments regarding former Cuban President Fidel Castro.

Guillen offended many Cuban-Americans with his praise of Castro during a television interview. With public outrage in full force, Guillen publicly apologized and answered questions for nearly an hour in a press conference.

Guillen was able to avert a possible PR crisis, and his quick apologetic presser was the key.

For Young, public relations won’t be this easy. These previous two examples didn’t involve pending criminal matters. When criminal charges are involved, lawyers’ suggestions generally win out over PR, and lawyers like to keep their client’s tight lipped.

But if the Tigers don’t want this to be a distraction for the remainder of the season, they have two choices. First, if the allegations are true and it is important for Young to remain tight lipped to avoid jail time, the Tigers should release Young and move on without him.

If only a part of the allegations are true, Young needs to face the media ASAP to try and recoup some public good will with fans.

You’ll remember that Tigers’ third baseman Miguel Cabrera was involved in a drinking and driving incident prior to the 2011 season. Although he didn’t do it immediately, Cabrera did hold a press conference to address the matter and answer a few questions.

Although this didn’t put an end to public outrage, it did ease public scrutiny and returned the organization back to worrying about what was happening on the field.

I expect Tigers PR to do the same with Young over the next week or so. In fact, Young’s suspension ends Friday, so it may be in the best interest of Young and the Tigers organization to have Young available to the media before he returns to the field sometime this weekend.

I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s working on specific media training with Tigers’ PR over the next couple of days.

While working towards my undergrad in PR over the past few years and looking at countless case studies, one thing is constant.

The public is willing to forgive public figures if they offer sincere apologies in a timely fashion. It’s when people or organizations seem as though they have something to hide that cause careers and public image to be completely destroyed.

It will be interesting from a PR perspective to see how the situation with Young and the Detroit Tigers evolves over the next couple of weeks. He is expected to return to the lineup sometime during the Tigers’ home series with the Chicago White Sox this weekend.

Sam Plymale

One response to “The Detroit Tigers and Delmon Young: Walking the PR Tightrope

  1. Reblogged this on DETROIT SPORTS ZONE and commented:
    Here is a blog I wrote on my EMU PRSSA website on the Delmon Young situation. It’s relevant for DSZ fans!

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