Tuesday, January 12, 2010

McGwire Speaks Out - A Careful PR Orchestration

I'll preface this post with a disclaimer about my Cardinals and McGwire bias: I became a die-hard St. Louis Cardinals fan in 1997 after moving to one of the best baseball towns in America. My husband proposed to me before a surprise trip to Spring Training 2001, where we witnessed the debut of El Hombre, Albert Pujols. I own a #25 t-shirt, though it hasn't seen a game at Busch Stadium in recent years. I actually gave a speech wearing that red t-shirt for a master's communication course - the topic was "passion." I used to defend McGwire vehemently to others who claimed he used steroids, secretly telling myself that it wasn't normal for a first baseman to have 17" forearms - larger than the average man's neck circumference.

That being said, it was very clear that Mark McGwire sought the counsel of a communications professional (or team of professionals) for his national evening news-leading announcement yesterday. The carefully orchestrated timeline of Mark's communication with multiple key audiences was more than just coincidence.

  • Sunday Evening - McGwire calls Pat Maris, Roger Maris' widow, to apologize

  • Monday Morning - Informs family; Calls Tony LaRussa & Bud Selig

  • Monday Afternoon - Statement released to the Associated Press; Conducted one-on-one interviews with several news outlets, including The New York Times.

  • Monday Evening - Gives first televised interview on the subject to St. Louis' own Bob Costas on MLB Network.
McGwire's announcement was more than a blanket apology - he provided details about the decade-long steroid use, his rationale for using PEDs to combat years of ongoing injuries, the legal advice he received prior to the 2005 Congressional hearings, and most importantly, he appeared contrite and sincere about what the situation has done to damage his reputation and hurt his family and friends who stood by him for years.

The announcement and subsequent responses from sports media and fans have trended on Twitter in the last 24 hours. The feedback, as with that on local sports call-in shows in St. Louis and even among former Cardinal players, has been divided. It was critical for McGwire to address the steroid issue far enough in advance of reporting to 2010 Spring Training in Jupiter for his new job as the Cardinals' hitting coach that it wouldn't become a distraction for the team.

The Cardinals commented on McGwire's admission, praising him for his "profuse" and "repeated" apology regarding his actions. While that may be the expected stance of a new employer defending a team legend, the statement was important to eliminate any doubt that the Cardinals' organization is having second thoughts about their choice of candidates.

Regardless of whether or not the Baseball Writers' Association will ever grace McGwire with a 75 percent vote necessary for the Hall of Fame, the announcement was necessary for McGwire to ensure a future as a coach in the game of baseball.

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