As the steroid controversy plays out in baseball following the release of the Mitchell Report, various players have taken different approaches to answering accusations and addressing the public in general. Two players who are very closely linked and who have taken virtually opposite communications strategies are former Yankee teammates Andy Pettite and Roger Clemens.
Clemens’ vigorous denials have been widely panned, making him the subject of ridicule, controversy and widespread media coverage. Ultimately, his denials may make him the subject of an indictment as well.
Pettite, on the other hand, came out early and admitted he had used Human Growth Hormone (HGH) one time to help him recover from an elbow injury. Even when he later admitted he’d used it a second time, he was treated much more favorably by media and fans. He has even been lauded as a hero by many for stepping up and taking responsibility for his actions.
Two men who are essentially accused of the exact same offense. One claims he’s innocent and yet he’s the one who’s getting the brunt of the scrutiny. So what gives?
It comes down to the most basic rule of crisis communications – “show them that you care.” People in general are willing to forgive indiscretions or mistakes if the person or organization that committed them is willing to take responsibility for their actions. That means admitting it, apologizing for it and telling what will be done to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
Pettite took that tactic, and it’s paying big dividends for him. Clemens continues to maintain his innocence, and he’s still caught in the eye of the storm. People see him as arrogant, dishonest and out of touch. If he’s proven innocent in a court of law he will have the last laugh. Unfortunately, he already been tried in the court of public opinion and the verdict is a resounding guilty.
But never fear, Roger – it’s not too late. Recant on your innocent stance and face the media music. The truth will set you free.