Companies spend untold sums preventing, and then cleaning up, public relations nightmares.
Former NFL coach Herm Edwards has a proven strategy that takes just three words: “Don’t press send.”
If only Don Jones and Mike Pouncey had listened, the Dolphins wouldn’t be back in the national tempest.
Jones and Pouncey sent off inflammatory tweets over the weekend that got the former fined and suspended, and the latter off Twitter altogether.
All it took was two words — “omg” and “horrible” — for Jones to get into trouble.
That was his reaction to seeing Michael Sam kiss his partner after Sam became the first openly gay player drafted Saturday night.
His remarks drew a quick rebuke from general manager Dennis Hickey, and on Sunday, coach Joe Philbin fined and suspended Jones from team activities until he undergoes sensitivity training. Although owner Stephen Ross was fully in the loop, the decision was Philbin’s alone, the Miami Herald learned. Jones, a second-year defensive back has since apologized.
Pouncey, a star center and a principal actor in the team’s 2013 bullying scandal, also drew criticism after making an ill-conceived joke about new first-round pick Ja’Wuan James on Thursday night.
“Great pick! I can’t wait for our gifts he’s getting us lol,” Pouncey wrote.
Pouncey, who could still be suspended by the league for his role in the locker room harassment scandal, has since deleted his Twitter account.
The two body blows, coming in the span of 48 hours, were an unwelcome development for a Dolphins team that in 2013 was better known for bullying each other than the opposition.
“The Dolphins took swift and decisive action in reprimanding Jones,” Miami-based publicist Tadd Schwartz said. “But you have to ask the question: There are 32 NFL franchises and four pro teams in South Florida, so why is the topic of intolerance still casting a shadow over the Dolphins?”
Schwartz continued: “Look at the Dolphins as a major corporation whose reputation has been tarnished due to one fiasco after another. It gets to a point where the brand is damaged beyond repair.”
The team is determined to prevent that from happening.
Ross has made increasing civility in society a personal crusade, and even tried to get an anti-bullying law passed in Tallahassee.
The team recently expanded its human resources department and now has a dedicated professional in its football headquarters. Plus Philbin has pledged to be more visible in the locker room to ensure he has a better feel for his the team.
Furthermore, the Dolphins constantly stress to their players the importance of making good decisions on social media and in interview settings and hold regular media training sessions. This is in addition to training seminars held by the league.
Finally, the Dolphins have shown that employees who cross the line will be dealt with — and not just financially.
“I think it will a take a change in the culture, and it will happen regardless if people want it to or not,” said Ginger McRae, a top consultant with Employment Practices Solutions, which specializes in sensitivity training. “Ultimately people have to accept that the workplace has to be open for everyone. Everyone has an equal right to be there, to earn money.
“It will take some time, but this is a huge step,” McRae added. “The Dolphins probably view this [embarrassment] as a step backwards for the organization, but things will eventually move forward.”
So what can be done to prevent the next embarrassment?
Philbin could follow the lead of Marvin Lewis. The Bengals coach explicitly banned his players from using Twitter during the 2012 season.
Ekaterina Walter, a brand-development expert, thinks such a closed-off philosophy is misguided.
“Shutting it down and not allowing your employee to tweet is only going to damage your brand going forward,” said Walter, the chief marketing officer of Branderati. “When you don’t see your employees talking about your brand and showing passion for your brand, it’s actually a bad situation.
She added: “Your brand is what your customers say it is. Your brand’s reputation would be negatively impacted by silence as well. It’s not a sign of confidence or a very strong culture.”
Walter suggested additional training on what is and is not acceptable.
Maybe Edwards can help.