There are a number of myths out there regarding professional athletes, most of which fuel bar talk among fans. These myths are irritating to professional athletes and many who work in the industry, myself included.
But, as a professional athlete, it’s important to recognize the advantage that can be had by defying these stereotypes publicly. Notice I said publicly. The majority of athletes defy them privately, but that doesn’t pose much of an advantage.
It’s when these actions are promoted within the media that an athlete can benefit through his or her business or foundation.
Let’s take a look at some of the myths.
“All professional athletes are rich.”
This one is frustrating. There’s nothing like being treated like scum due to the perception of making millions. Hell, if I’m going to be treated like crap for making millions, it would be nice to actually be making them.
Considering only the marquee players receive mammoth contracts and the life span of an average pro sports career is between three and six years, money is rarely there and — even when it is — it doesn’t go far.
“Professional athletes have the easiest job in the world.”
I’ve seen players limping out of a locker room the day after a game, covered in ice packs, only to suit up the following Sunday. Sports are grueling, and the ones at a national level are punishing beyond compare.
When there are throngs of fans expecting a player to suit up and contention is on the line, there is little room for choice from the player’s side.
Then — to add insult to injury (literally) — fans call players weak when they sit the bench with a broken bone, bad sprain, or other injury that could provide life-altering setbacks if aggravated.
“All professional athletes are self-centered.”
Let’s be honest: athletes are caricatures to the average person. Pawns in a game of entertainment that is far more than entertainment to most. Many fans hold their quality of life in the hands of sports and don’t care that the men or women playing the game are, in fact, human beings.
I truly believe the idea of all athletes being self-centered is a way to subconsciously justify the horrible things fans say about them, but I digress.
“Professional athletes have no idea what it’s like to be me.”
Could this be the most frustrating of all? Yes, there are the celebrity-status athletes who live life differently than most, but most professional athletes couldn’t be picked out of a crowd when wearing street clothes.
“Most professional athletes are immoral.”
Not even close. There are plenty who give all a bad name, however, primarily because the media pounces on the negative stories. We live in a day and age where sensationalism is the way to be. It’s tough to turn our eyes from a train wreck, let’s be honest.
Making the Myths Work
Why bring all of this up? Because professional athletes can use it to their advantage. As painful as it is to look the other way when a drunken fan is hurling insults their way, actively defying these myths or stereotypes can result in great things.
How do they do this?
Here is a step-by-step guide:
1. Have a plan.
Athletes shouldn’t throw money at products or services without an end result in mind. When building a foundation, have a specific timeline laid out before getting started. Recognize what will be accomplished, how funds will be raised, and a plan for growth.
When building a business, athletes must recognize the products or services being provided, who they will be provided to, and how money will be made.
2. Hire a public relations rep.
Whether an athlete played three years or three days, there is an advantage, and it’s important to hire someone who knows how to work it.
Here are some guidelines:
- They must know how to frame a story. This is critical to getting it picked up. Hosting a holiday toy drive is nice, but it isn’t a news story. Talking about a father of four, recently laid off, who will be able to provide Christmas to his kids because of your toy drive is absolutely a story.
- They must have a great network. Between media contacts and people of influence, make sure your PR rep has relationships to leverage.
- They must have basic communication skills. The last thing you want is a piece of content — press release, flier, etc. — published on your behalf looking like a child put it together. Your PR rep is your rep.
Make sure he or she knows how to speak and write. Design experience is a plus, but good taste (and a willingness to defer to someone with design experience) will do.
3. Work your network.
Whether it’s online or in person, athletes must be visible. They can leverage social media (which doesn’t have to be Facebook and Twitter … it could be LinkedIn!) and take advantage of these myths by being open about how they defy them.
They should allow a PR rep to pitch stories (so they don’t appear to be boasting), promote via social, and then follow suit with the right actions.
Fans will eat it up when presented the right way.