Posts Tagged ‘Academics’

The Gilbert Arenas Fiasco: How the Washington Wizards and NBA tried to handle the situation

I’ve opened up the vault again and pulling out one that would be funny if it wasn’t so sad. The Gilbert Arenas fiasco from December of 2009. This was one of those seminal moments in Twitter where people following Gilbert Arenas saw him go crazy online. Here is the paper I wrote that talks about how the Wizards and the NBA tried to handle the situation.

The Gilbert Arenas Fiasco: How the Washington Wizards and NBA tried to handle the situation

             As the calendar was flipping from 2009 to 2010 Gilbert Arenas gave the Washington Wizards and the National Basketball Association a public relations nightmare as a bad incident that could have been rectified in the eyes of the public fairly easily was made worse and worse by following actions by Gilbert Arenas.

                Gilbert Arenas brought a gun to practice in December of 2009. If that’s where it would have stopped this wouldn’t be that big of a story.  Arenas then apologized in a statement that was clearly not written by him. A few days after it was reported, it was discovered that Arenas was involved in an armed standoff with teammate Javaris Crittenton a few days prior to the gun being discover Arenas’ locker in the Verizon Center. Arenas proceeded to create a Twitter account and started telling jokes on it while tweeting almost constantly rather than lying low. Arenas then retracted his apology. Finally during a pregame huddle on the court before playing the Philadelphia 76ers, Arenas did a mock “stick-up” of his teammates with his fingers as weapons. Then he responded with a non-apology on Twitter (Berger, 2009).

Story, History and Issue

On Thursday, December 24, 2009 Ken Berger of reported that the NBA and the Washington Wizards were investigating an incident claiming Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas had firearms stored in his locker at the Verizon Center which would be a direct violation of league rules. Arenas was suspended for a game during the 2004-05 season for breaking a similar rule (Steinberg, 2010). The Washington Wizards had recently suffered the loss of their longtime owner Abe Pollin who died a month earlier. Pollin, possibly best known for firing Michael Jordan in 2003, moved his basketball team and hockey team, the Washington Capitals, to a new arena he built with his own money in downtown Washington when a lot of people feared the area because of the gun violence. He also changed the name of his basketball team from the “Bullets” to the “Wizards” to shy away from the association Washington had with gun violence (Blackistone, 2009).

A few days later it was released that the gun had become known when Arenas pulled a prank on his teammate Javaris Crittenton, on December 21. The details got murkier when the witnesses to the incident said Crittenton also pulled a gun and it appeared Arenas was lying to investigators (Wojnarowski, 2010).

Arenas issued an apology from his lawyers that while it sounded good as an apology, it was very apparent that Arenas didn’t write it (Lee, Arenas statement on gun incident, 2010). This apology looked even worse when Gilbert Arenas opened up a Twitter account that exploded in the number of followers in a few days.  Arenas claimed the incident was a joke on Twitter and also started telling other jokes (Talmazan, 2010).

As the apology started to look more and more insincere as the investigation was still ongoing, Arenas used his hand to simulate sticking up teammates before a game against the Philadelphia 76ers. The image was released to the media and Arenas proceeded to joke about the incident on Twitter saying, “I know everybody seen the pre game teammate thought to break the tention we should do that..but this is gettn way to much,” followed by, “I wanna say sorry if I pissed any body off by us havin fun…I’m sorry for anything u need to blame for for right now..” (Steinberg, 2010). At this point the NBA decided to suspend Gilbert Arenas indefinitely about 15 days after the story broke that Gilbert Arenas had guns in the locker room.

The issue of an athlete having firearms in the locker room isn’t foreign. The National Basketball Association has a rule against athletes bringing firearms to the arena. There are two things that make this instance stand out more than others including Gilbert Arenas previous gun charge in California in 2003. One, Gilbert Arenas behavior after the incident while the investigation was going on was nothing short than a complete and total nightmare for the Washington Wizards and the NBA. Arenas did just about everything the public relations teams would not want him doing in this situation. Two, the city it happened in and the organization it happened to. Washington is notorious for gun violence.  A few weeks prior to this incident the Supreme Court struck down the strictest gun control law in the nation that was being used in Washington D.C. The Wizards owner, as mentioned earlier tried to shy away from gun violence by changing the name of the team in the mid-1990s.

Issue Management

The Washington Wizards were most likely prepared for this type of incident. Gilbert Arenas plead no contest for failing to properly register a hand gun in 2003 while he was with the Golden State Warriors (Lee, Wizards’ Arenas investigated for gun possession, 2009).

Knowing this, the Wizards had to have anticipated this type of situation. They also appeared to analyze the situation thoroughly as they were not hasty in their decision making releasing statements with false accusations in them.

The Wizards appeared to have a united front on the situation. After the first statement from the organization was released on Christmas no one in the organization would comment further on it. This move led to a successful suppression of rumors. While rumors still circulated the source was not coming from the Wizards organization. They were also united with the NBA who decided not to punish Arenas until the investigation was complete; this was until the Arenas circus act went too far.

Both the Wizards and the NBA wanted the focus of the public to be on the games and the athletes on the court, not the athletes off of it. In this regard there were few statements from both and the hope was to keep the public occupied by the play on the floor. The allowing of a marquee player like Gilbert Arenas to play was part of this. Without him on the floor the Wizards are a different team and every night he isn’t out there is a reminder of this incident. Trying to operate as normally as possibly was what the NBA and the Wizards tried to do and they hoped the fans would do likewise.


Organization Position and Communication

The National Basketball Association stood still as this whole saga unfolded. While the National Football League under current commissioner Roger Goodell often acts quickly and administers swift discipline for any accusation of wrongdoing, the NBA under David Stern has always waited until due process played out by the proper authorities before administering their own punishment. The NBA likewise told the Washington Wizards to wait to take action until the investigation was complete. For two weeks that was the case until the picture of Gilbert Arenas appearing to “stick-up” his teammates in a pregame huddle before playing the Philadelphia 76ers hit the media.  Less than 24 hours later David Stern released a statement saying Arenas was suspended indefinitely without pay (Iovono, 2010). After each compounding incident occurred, both NBA and the Washington Wizards maintained that they were letting the investigation play out. But the actions before a game in front of everyone drew the last straw.

The move to keep the incident out of the limelight while the investigation was an attempt to avoid two image bruises instead of one. This comes to light is one hailstorm. Then when the investigation is done and the punishments are handed out is another. By attempting to lessen this one and just suffer the brunt on the second one appeared to be a smart idea but it failed when Arenas would not go into hiding.

Two Affected Publics and Their Desired Behavior

Originally the affected publics were just the active and aware publics of the Washington Wizards, such as fans, ticket holders and sponsors. On Christmas Day they really were the only ones who cared since their team’s star player may be getting suspended. The fact it was announced on Christmas Eve caused it to be somewhat overlooked so a lot of people were not even aware of the incident. That all started to change as Arenas made action after on top of action that compounded the problem. (Iovono, 2010).

As the days wore on more and more people heard about the story. The fact that it was new news coming out every day made more people more likely to listen rather than the same story being rehashed over and over again. A grand jury was convened for the investigation and even non-basketball fans in Washington and basketball fans and non-basketball fans around the country were noticing the chaos that was taking place around Gilbert Arenas and the Washington Wizards.

As of Christmas Day the desired behavior for the affected publics which was fairly small at this point was to move on with their day. The Wizards said very little in their press release that appeared in the Washington Post. Just that they learned of the situation and have notified and are cooperating with proper authorities (Lee, Wizards’ Arenas investigated for gun possession, 2009).

As things were escalating the desired behavior started to change as more publics were being affected. When the NBA eventually put a stop to things there was a decidedly different behavior wanted from the affected publics. The NBA wanted public to know that the kind of behavior by Arenas was not going to be tolerated and that he would be dealt with. When Arenas stayed in the limelight during the investigation instead of lying low for a while the NBA suspended him indefinitely in the hopes that by not seeing Arenas the public would forget all about the incident.

Reputation Drivers

The Wizards held social responsibility and emotional appeal in the city of Washington as the reputation drivers of the brand. Their emotional appeal rests on the fact that they are the sole NBA team in the Baltimore-Washington area. Their social responsibility is unique among the NBA for the lengths they go to stand up against gun violence.

One of the biggest reputation drivers of the Washington Wizards is social responsibility toward trying to prevent gun violence. Abe Pollin, the former owner even went so far as to changing the name of the team from the “Bullets” to the “Wizards” in an effort to dispel to image of gun violence. This was the first time a major professional sports team changed their name without changing the city they were in since the Houston Colt .45s become the Houston Astros in 1965 (Blackistone, 2009). Wizards were forced to take a stand against the gun charges against Arenas so as to not look hypocritical on their stance against gun violence.

The Wizards also had emotional appeal with city of Washington D.C. Abe Pollin brought the city of Washington two major pro sports teams in moving the Baltimore Bullets to Washington in 1973 and by founding the Washington Capitals in 1974. Pollin also refused excepting tax money for building stadiums both in 1973 with the building of the Capital Centre and the building of the Verizon Center in 1997. Before Pollin came around the only major sports team in the nation’s capital was the Washington Redskins after the Washington Senators baseball team left town for Dallas in 1971. (Blackistone, 2009). The appeal of the Wizards being entrenched in the community and the concerns of both were thrown into question as a community concerned with gun violence saw the potential forming in their professional basketball team.


Message and Objective of the PR Campaign

The message that was sent by both the NBA and the Washington Wizards was that this is a very serious matter.  While both waited for the investigation took place both were watching Arenas carefully and not condoning his actions. When Arenas started to fake sticking up teammates in NBA arenas the NBA finally made good on their indications that this was a serious matter and suspended Arenas without pay before the investigation was completed.

The channels used to deliver the message were news releases to the media and news conferences. Both were limited as to not detract from the play of the Wizards on the court which was what the Wizards wanted the media to focus on.

The campaign would have worked had Arenas done the prudent thing and tried to keep a low profile as the rest of the investigation took place and try not to ruffle too many feathers. The lack of statements about the incident by the NBA and the Washington Wizards also suggested the desire for a low profile. However, Arenas Twitter account and quasi-apology destroyed the original objective.

Eventually David Stern had to step up and end the fiasco by suspending Arenas without pay as allowing him to continue to play allowed him to stay in the limelight far too much for the NBA or Wizards to be comfortable with.

Assessing the PR Campaign

If this had ended Christmas Day it would be a much easier public relations campaign to assess. But as the days wore on it became more complex and a good PR campaign turned tougher as Arenas was doing everything the public relations team at the Washington Wizards and the NBA was hoping he wouldn’t.

As of Christmas Day I thought the campaign was being well run. The Washington Wizards saying it was a serious matter and Gilbert Arenas will be punished. They also gave reasoning for why there was no danger because there was no ammunition in the guns and Arenas had an admirable reason for having the guns at the Verizon Center because he wanted them out of the house and away from his children. As a nothing to see here, move on with your day I think the campaign was well run.

As for the end with suspending Arenas I agree it was the right move but I feel it came too late. The NBA eventually said that “Arenas was unfit to take the court.”  It looked pretty evident that by the Tweets he was posting he was unfit for any position where he is in the public eye. Arenas was the face of the Wizards before this with his $111 million, six year contract (Berger, 2009). I think they moved a week to slow. I like the concept of waiting until the investigation played out before giving out a punishment. I think it is one of the mistakes of the NFL how they act without knowing all of the facts. But in this case I believe the Washington Wizards and the NBA should have acted sooner because the investigation was taking too long and every night Arenas was on the court in a Wizards uniform was another black eye for the league and the Wizards including the humiliating photo of Arenas sticking up his teammates in the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia.

The news release by the league was good in my opinion for addressing that the indefinite suspension isn’t really a part of the punishment for the matter but rather there will be a punishment handed down when the investigation is completed (Iovono, 2010).

It rather effectively settled the matter. With Arenas not playing anymore he wasn’t talked about nearly as much and when the investigation finally wrapped up; his suspension and fine were little more than a ten second spot on Sportscenter instead of being a constant media circus.


All things considered the Washington Wizards and the NBA handled the situation as well as they could have. Even the best issue management planning couldn’t have foreseen a grown man acting like Gilbert Arenas did while a grand jury was convening for the investigation into his behavior. If Arenas would have acted like a normal human being the public relations campaign would have gone smoothly and there would have been few problems. Thanks to Arenas that didn’t happen but the media firestorm eventually died down and it is currently business as usual for the Wizards.

Works Cited

Berger, K. (2009, December 24). Wizards’ Arenas target of gun possession probe. Retrieved November 6, 2010, from

Blackistone, K. (2009, November 25). Abe Pollin built more than the Wizards. Retrieved November 6, 2010, from Fanhouse:

Iovono, J. (2010, January 7). “Arenas not currently fit to take the court”:NBA. Retrieved November 6, 2010, from NBC Washington:

Lee, M. (2009, December 25). Wizards’ Arenas investigated for gun possession. Retrieved November 6, 2010, from Washington Post:

Lee, M. (2010, January 4). Arenas statement on gun incident. Retrieved November 6, 2010, from Washington Post:

Steinberg, D. (2010, January 6). Why Arenas was unfit to take the court. Retrieved November 6, 2010, from Washington Post:

Talmazan, Y. (2010, January 8). Gilbert Arenas Twitter Account Deleted: Did the NBA make him do it? Retrieved November 6, 2010, from Now Public:

Wojnarowski, A. (2010, January 1). Arenas probe centers on lockerroom standoff. Retrieved November 6, 2010, from Yahoo Sports:


Am I Sport Fan?

I’m out of Jack Daniel’s. Not really out. There is still enough at the bottom so I have some cologne left. For drinking purposes I can barely lubricate the bottom of the glass. Due to a lack of options (Okay options that #1 work effectively with Coke and #2 I actually will drink are slim. Open up the requirements and the options abound.) I’m going to marry Skyy and Coke.

As I write the near empty bottle of Jack Daniel’s still sits by me as a sip a competitor’s potent potables. The label in its regal black and white monochrome splendor. Bold distinct differences between what is writing and what is background. An easy determiner of what is good and what is evil. Simple much like a Kraken bottle. No space for ambiguity.

Maybe I like the lack of ambiguity so much because there is a surplus of ambiguity in my life. At least in the supposedly easiest question to answer about me: “Am I a sport fan?”

That’s a ridiculously easy question to answer for everyone around me. The shouts immediately go to “Yes!” as if there is seemingly no way the answer to such a question could be “no”. At least not for the boy who used to watch 150 basketball games in person during the winter. Not the boy who got an ESPN Sportscenter ornament for Christmas. Not the boy who has participated in 6 different sports and is contemplating another one to add on to that list. Not the boy who has wanted to be a sports journalist since he was 10 and wrote a season review of the Packers 1997 season. Not the boy who created his own fictional state so he could have his own high school state playoffs in basketball and football (and on rare occasions baseball, soccer and hockey). Not the boy whose 90% of his wardrobe is exclusively sports related. Of course he is a sport fan.

Unfortunately there are two reasons I’m not sure I can answer that question so easily if even at all. The first problem is trying to define a fan. If you ever want to see the loudest questions of what is a true fan, watch a professional team rise up and take the world championship. The city comes gathers around this team and the accusations start flying about who was always a fan, who is a bandwagon fan. Is a bandwagon fan even a fan or just a trophy chaser? Is someone who points out this team is light years above the salary cap and is about to use a fire sale strategy with their players just to stay within league rules a fan or doomsday prophesier trying to rain on everyone’s victory parade through downtown? Are the guys who beat up Bryan Stow outside of Dodger Stadium on Opening Day because Stow was wearing Giants gear while these guys were wearing Dodgers gear “fans”? There is a new ESPN documentary due out this year with the tag line “What if I told you Steve Bartman is the only true Cubs fan?” (By the way I am anxiously awaiting this documentary).

What is a fan is a perilous question to ask? Probably because there is not a more perilous accusation to make in the pseudo-world we escape to cope with our everyday lives. Question anyone’s fan-dom at the next ball game you’re at. But only do it if you are wearing riot gear, less you have a death wish. There is no greater accusation in the world of spectator sports than to openly question whether someone is truly a fan.

I know the stats, the histories, who is leading the division, which team is the dark horse that can strike at any moment. But look at me at a game and I’m not very vocal. I’m not shouting instructions to the players or coaches or refs in a delusional belief that they can #1 actually hear me and #2 actually are going to do what I’m yelling. I’m rather very quiet at games. I preferred radio broadcasting for my college’s basketball games because I was able to get away from people who thought they had a moral obligation to coach from the bleachers and were sure to make everyone around them know it. In full disclosure at track meets I am one of the loudest if I am yelling splits for a runner but this on the coaching rather than fan side of the line.

But the problem with not being able to truly determine a fan is not the deepest problem with whether or not knowing I am a sports fan. Rather if we were just to assume someone who enjoys sports is a “fan” this question still has to deal with whether or not I am a fan.

I find that increasingly more often I try to distance myself from what people consider fans. Whether it is their level of incompetence at the simple rules of the game (no you do not to get to shoot free throws if a charge is committed against you, even if you are in double bonus), or their inability to handle the fact that the people who are wearing the other team’s colors are actually human just like they are. I mock those that sit in sky boxes as they are away from the action, removed from the experience and pay dearly for the privilege yet I yearn at times to be with them because it is easier when no one knows what is going on than if a bunch of people think they know what is going on.

As much as I love being in a sports bar drinking a Spotted Cow, I love sitting in a cafe with some cool artwork on the walls as I sip a mocha. I love watching human drama unfold on either the big screen or on the stage. Maybe it is the drama that sport affords us that draws me to it.

Drama is inherently in sport in general. Drama occurs when there is a battle for a lack of resources, in the case of sport it is “victory.” There can only be one victor and the battle to be that one victor creates drama. I sit with the idea that maybe drama rather than sport is my passion. Maybe I am wasting my time going to graduate school in sport management. But if sport is not what I want to be involved with for the rest of my life what is?

I wanted to be a weather man when I was younger if that counts for anything but there is at times no drama in the weather. When it is sunny and 75 all week the boredom would set in pretty fast. Unless of course there is great excitement in whether or not my projections are correct. However, as I have never been one to put much stock in the grades I got beyond whether or not I passed I doubt I would care much if I was really that good at predicting the weather.

I could go to Hollywood and get in to movie making whether in front of or behind the camera. That would deal with artificially created drama. But as the play or movie creates a fictional world in which the drama takes place much like a haunted house creates a fictional world to be scared, at the end of the day the drama isn’t real. In sport it is real much like it is in a graveyard after midnight. But that is a much too simple of an answer as to why I love sport. That would suggest that I shouldn’t love movies or plays which is wrong. Sometimes fabricated drama is good. As the old saying goes. “Learn from other people’s mistakes, you don’t have time to make all of them yourself.”

It’s like the people who see me as a dumb jock. If that is all you see of me then you are really missing a lot of what I am. Even if you are able to take a look and see me as a smart jock you are still missing a lot. I also watch movies that are more than Any Given Sunday and He Got Game although both are very good movies. I also like movies with more depth like Scent of a Woman and Little Miss Sunshine. I enjoy going to plays and discussing philosophy and politics. Sadly few people exist in my world that I can do that with.

The problem with me fitting in this world is the inability for people to accept that athletics, arts and academics don’t have to compete with one another. A person can value all three. I actually wrote an Op-Ed piece about how a liberal arts college should make sure a student grows in all three: Not my strongest writing but it gets the point across well enough. There seems to be a line of thinking that the same body can’t thirst for knowledge and thirst for Gatorade. That the same ear can’t enjoy the sound of strings representing lightning in Antonio Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons, Spring” and the snap of the strings of a net as basketball flies through it. That the same eye can’t ponder at the beauty of Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” and the combining of two gases to form water, the necessary ingredient for all life.

The idea that these three things can’t co-exist is something I’ll tackle at a later time. The question as to whether I am a sport fan or not is answerable. Even though I am all these things more than just a dumb jock it doesn’t preclude me from being a sport fan as much as the world would like to make it so. Me being an enigma due to the lack of people who see all three “A’s: Academics, Athletics and Arts” is something I will definitely dive into another day. The preview is in the link in the paragraph above.

I am a sport fan. I enjoy watching people push their body to the limits. I love pushing myself to the limits. The pulse pounding drama as two teams battle neck and neck for a victory only one can attain. The hair-raising excitement when an athlete can bring an entire stadium to its feet. And none of this takes away from the fact I also enjoy a quiet coffee shop with a mocha in my hand. Is it crystal clear, nicely cut and dry like the black and white Jack Daniel’s bottle? Not quiet. But a world lacking any ambiguity is a boring place to live.