Earlier today, a good friend of mine posted something to her Facebook page. Here’s what it said:
If you listen to the clip, ESPN’s Tony Kornheiser — no stranger to outlandish, suspension-related commentary — basically tells his readers it is okay to run down bicyclists on the road. My beef isn’t with Kornheiser’s actual comment (although he’s wildly misguided on the rules of the road and legal culpability). My argument is with his employer, ESPN, which has yet to terminate its relationship with Korhneisher.
In the vernacular of the Twitterverse and, I suspect, many a PR executive within ESPN and elsewhere, what we have here is a shitstorm for the ESPN brand. ESPN, by not outright firing Kornheiser on the spot, has tacitly implied that it respects ratings over human life. Good brand message and association.
ESPN had the opportunity to do the right thing, but instead chose to take the time-honored route of standing by its man and having him issue a public apology. That’s all fine and good (albeit quickly becoming quite transparent) if Kornheiser pulled a Tiger Woods and the issue was personal (or if it was, oh, say a derogatory comment about a colleague). But Kornheiser’s commentary wasn’t innocuous. It was a trifecta of hate that has become all too common in today’s media: deliberate, made to incite and dangerous.
It is that trifecta that should have had ESPN’s lawyers scrambling immediately for the termination papers. Instead, ESPN’s PR team saw this as a ratings opportunity:
And then there’s Lance.
Yes, that Lance. The one with a closet full of yellow shirts. The one who speaks for bikers everywhere. The one we mere mortals in clipless pedals look to for inspiration. In a misguided attempt to address the firestorm, Lance agreed to an interview with Kornheiser — on Kornheiser’s show — tomorrow:
I’m not sure what was going through Lance’s or his publicist’s mind. I’m smart enough to realize that even the best make bad choices sometimes, but this one was a PR no-brainer. Lance *should not* have agreed to this interview. He didn’t need to. Lance’s platform as a global celebrity raises him well above that afforded by Kornheiser. Here’s what Lance should have (and could have) done:
- Issue a statement (on Twitter, of course): “On behalf of recreational cyclists everywhere, we do not accept Kornheiser’s apology. This issue is too important.”
- Offer to lead a public, televised Critical Mass ride in Washington, DC — the city Kornheiser broadcasts from. And invite members of both parties and other celebrities to ride along. Kornheiser would not be invited to ride along.
- Instead of acknowledging Kornheiser with an interview, use your much, much larger platform to take the issue well beyond the reach of Kornheiser and to the upper reaches of Oprah, Ellen or The Today Show. Kornheiser’s Q score is non-existant compared to the credibility you bring to this topic.
This is a personal issue for me, not because I am a cyclist who wants to feel safe on the road; not because I am a 20-year PR veteran who hates watching bad PR moves; but because my friend — the one who posted the original Facebook update — lost her leg after being hit by a car while riding. So ESPN, Lance, please rethink how you really want to and should handle Kornheiser’s irresponsible and deliberate actions.