Case Studies

New York Times: Ramsey Poston comments on Kurt Busch Allegations

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Nascar’s Kurt Busch Is Focus of Domestic Assault Inquiry

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(online version can be found at: New York Times )

Add Nascar to the list of sports organizations now having to manage domestic violence accusations against one of their stars. The police in Dover, Del., released a statement Friday saying that Kurt Busch, the 2004 Cup champion and the driver of the No. 41 Chevrolet for the high-profile Stewart-Haas Racing team, was under investigation on suspicion of domestic assault.

The Associated Press reported that the accusation had been made by Patricia Driscoll, the president of the Armed Forces Foundation in Washington, D.C., and a former girlfriend of Busch’s, and that the episode had taken place Sept. 26 in Busch’s motor home before a race at Dover International Speedway. The police indicated that the accusation had been made Wednesday.
Busch, who is in Avondale, Ariz., preparing for a Sprint Cup race at Phoenix International Raceway on Sunday, denied the charge through a lawyer, Rusty Hardin.
“This allegation is a complete fabrication by a woman who has refused to accept the end of a relationship, and Mr. Busch vehemently denies her allegations in every respect,” Hardin said in a statement.
Busch participated in practice at the Phoenix racetrack on Friday. Spokesmen for Nascar and Stewart-Haas Racing both wrote that they were gathering facts and had no further comment.
That is standard procedure for Nascar. The Cup driver Travis Kvapil was arrested on charges of assaulting his wife in October 2013 and never faced a suspension, even after The Sporting News reported that he had pleaded guilty and had been sentenced to probation and community service.
Nascar’s reaction is in contrast to other sports leagues, which have removed athletes from competition while they were involved in domestic violence investigations and before legal proceedings were complete.
Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, who reached a plea deal after assaulting his fiancée earlier this year, was suspended indefinitely after video of the episode became public. Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson and Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy have been placed on the N.F.L. exempt list while legal proceedings continue in their domestic violence cases. They are being paid but are not allowed to compete.
Defenseman Slava Voynov of the N.H.L.’s Los Angeles Kings was suspended indefinitely after he was arrested last month on domestic assault charges.
Ramsey Poston, a former managing director of communications for Nascar who helped the organization with crisis management after the death of Dale Earnhardt in 2001, said: “It used to be that sports leagues, when there was an issue, would let law enforcement fully investigate an issue and then, based on that, take appropriate action. In the post-Ray Rice world, I don’t think sports leagues have that luxury anymore.
“Obviously it is far, far too early to begin to speculate about what might have happened,” Poston added. “I can’t see a basis for them to take any action, especially take him off the track. However, Nascar should be asking questions and potentially conducting their own investigation.”
Busch is the second high-profile driver at Stewart-Haas Racing who has faced a criminal investigation in recent months. Tony Stewart, Busch’s boss and an owner of the team, was investigated in Ontario County, N.Y., over his involvement in the death of the sprint car driver Kevin Ward Jr. during a race at Canandaigua Motorsports Park on Aug. 9.
Ward had left his racecar after a crash to confront Stewart on the track and was fatally hit by Stewart’s car. Stewart was not charged in the death.
Busch has a long history of confrontations with drivers and members of the news media, on and off the track.
He was suspended for two races by one former team, Roush Racing, in 2005 after an arrest on charges of reckless driving before a race at Phoenix. He lost his job at Penske Racing in 2011 after a verbal confrontation with a broadcaster. After threatening a reporter at Dover in 2012, Busch was suspended by Nascar.
Relegated to driving for smaller, less competitive teams for two years in part because of his volatility, Busch is in his first season at Stewart-Haas Racing. He made the 16-driver field for the playoff but was eliminated in the first round.
The playoff has prompted a series of postrace fights among drivers in contention, including a melee last week at Texas Motor Speedway. Nascar has not penalized drivers for fighting, and the confrontations have brought greater attention to the sport.
The accusation against Busch comes at a time when Nascar is trying to promote its playoff.
The Phoenix race will cut the field of drivers in the championship chase to four from eight heading into the Nov. 16 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Bill Cosby Treading Water in Rape Allegations

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Whether Bill Cosby is innocent or guilty of rape allegations, his “no comment” strategy is a major PR mistake and will cost him in the court of public opinion and perhaps in judicial courts.

The comedic icon has been dogged for years by allegations that he raped multiple women. At least one woman filed suit that was eventually settled out of court. Last week, another woman, Barbara Bowman, wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post where she claims Cosby “brainwashed” her and assaulter her “multiple times.”

Over the weekend, NPR’s Scott Simon asked Cosby about the claims and Cosby said nothing. Literally nothing. Simon ask the comedian three times if he wanted to clear his name and set the record straight and each time Cosby remained silent.

In virtually any crisis situation, “no comment” essentially translates into “I’m guilty.” Traditionally, lawyers tend to believe the best strategy is to just wait until their day in court. That strategy was perhaps more effective pre-Internet when information was constrained to major media establishments and a handful of opinion makers. Today, when it comes to one’s reputation, we all live in the digital world and power is diffused throughout the Internet. The old media establishment and the 24 news cycle are long gone. Individuals and bloggers have credibility and can shape images in real time.

Those facing crisis situations need to adapt to the digital world and manage their reputations on the front end. The risk of a “no comment” strategy is that by the time one gets to court there may be nothing left to defend.

Cosby is embarking on a major concert tour, billed as, “Laughter is universal – Bill Cosby – Far from finished” that will cover nearly 40 shows nationwide. He will also perform in his first television concert in 30 years to be broadcast Nov. 23 on Comedy Central.

Cosby’s silence will not deter media in locals markets from continuing to raise questions about the rape allegations. Nor will his silence likely slow down his accusers; why would it? As long as Cosby remains silent, his accusers repeatedly get “free shots” and by default, they control the message.

While Cosby’s accusers remain on the attack, his reputation continues be diminished and the accusations threaten to derail his “far from finished” tour and perhaps his entire career. If their message continues to resonate, it won’t be long before Cosby’s entire career is defined as being a rapist instead of the lovable comedian he is known as by millions of people worldwide.

As this crisis rages on, the Cosby camp needs to also consider the costs to his business. How much more negative attention will it take before Comedy Central, the network of conscientious Jon Stewart, has to rethink its Bill Cosby special? What will be the environment at his concerts? Will activist groups protest his shows? Will ticket sales suffer?

Bill Cosby needs to take control of his message, whether he is innocent or guilty. If he is innocent, it is important that he look the American people in the eye and proclaim his innocence. He needs to be public in his defense and tell his story far and wide and he must be willing to take questions and be prepared to respond with details. In fact, he should find a respected national television show to present his side of the story – perhaps 60 Minutes or The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

If he is guilty, the best thing he can do is to come clean. He needs to address the allegations and tell the American people what happened and why. While doing so would put Cosby in the crosshairs of controversy, he’s already there, so it would be his best shot at a new beginning. He would have to admit it all, ask for forgiveness and then try to rehabilitate his life and his reputation.

Remaining on the sidelines is a mistake. One way or another he should speak up and tell his story.

One of Cosby’s classic stories is a conversation between Noah and God regarding the construction of an ark in anticipation of the Bible’s apocalyptic flood. In Cosby’s version of the story, Noah becomes very frustrated with the process. Noah says to God, “Well, I’m sick and tired of this, I’ve had enough of this stuff.” God, replies, “How long can you tread water?”

In his real life story, Cosby is the one treading water. He needs to build that ark and get to solid ground.

Dan Snyder vs. Public Opinion and Justice

Growing up in Washington, D.C. in the 1970s and ‘80s I always wanted to be an“Indian” when it came time to play “Cowboys and Indians.”  The Indians in my mind were an extension of my favorite football team, The Washington Redskins. This was a great source of pride for me and one that gave me what I thought was an important connection to Native Americans, even though the team’s connection was superficial at best.

Every few years the issue of whether the Redskins’ name is racist would surface(usually when the team was headed to a Super Bowl). Occasionally I would meetNative Americans and ask them about the name. Typically, they said they took no offense to the name and even supported the team. I took solace in the fact that some Native Americans supported the team. The controversy would just as quickly evaporate and everyone seemed to move on.

This time it’s different.The team is quickly headed to a tipping point in which a name change is imminent.

So what is different this time around? Arrogance. Team owner Daniel Snyder challenged the public’s awareness and opened the door for a more complete discussion about the name when he told USA Today in an interview, “We’ll never change the name…it’s that simple. NEVER.” For emphasis, he then said to the reporter: “You can use caps.”

Abraham Lincoln once said, “public opinion, though often formed upon a wrong basis, generally has a strong underlying sense of justice.” It is now clear that the public, along with much of the Native American community, accepted Snyder’s challenge and public opinion has shifted in the name of justice.

Public opinion, followed by business reasons, has forced the team to change in thepast and it’s going to happen again. The team’s fight song, “Hail to the Redskins” hasbeen revised at least twice. The original lyrics to the song included a reference to“scalp ‘em” revised to “beat ‘em.” One version of the song made reference to the“Sons of old Dixie” which was changed to “Sons of old DC.” If “scalp ‘em” was deemed offensive and references to “Dixie” too controversial in the 1960s, then changing the name in 2014 is the logical next step.

The recent U.S. Patent & Trademark Office decision to cancel six Washington Redskins trademarks, calling the team name “disparaging to Native Americans,” may add further weight to tip the balance of public opinion. The action, which is now being appealed by the team, does not have the force of law. One patent and trademark expert who works in the sports industry told me that, “the loss of federal registration does not prevent the team from using its common law rights or state registration as a tool to enforce against infringers.” That source said, “I don’t think the organization will be affected by this unless it wants to change.”

Indeed, the decision could be used as a way out of the growing public opinion opposition for Snyder. It is the opinion of some sports insiders that Snyder has come to the realization that the change is inevitable and now he’s in position to leverage the NFL for greater concessions in return for ending the controversy.

One would hope that the NFL would not give an inch in return for Snyder doing the right thing, but make no mistake, Snyder will look for opportunities find a way to capitalize even in defeat.

A rebranding of the franchise could actually mean millions of new dollars of revenue forthe team. A new name and a new logo means new merchandise and it’s a good bet that the team’s fans, some of the most loyal in all sports, will not only clear out all remaining Redskins merchandise but the new items as well.

It remains to be seen whether a name change will maintain a connection to Native Americans going forward. If it does, the team should build a meaningful relationship between the Native American community and its fan base that provides some level of education about those who lived on this land first.

Sports can be used to better society. It can teach us about hard work, fair play, the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. AND it can educate us about our progress as a society. Perhaps if the team maintains the connection to Native Americans,there might be more kids who want to be the “Indian.”

But there must first be change, which will only come as a result of the public’s insistence. Lincoln went on to say, “public opinion in this country is everything.”


Ramsey Poston is a crisis communications expert and president of Tuckahoe Strategies, a strategic communications firm.