When PR Gets Personal: Ethics in Sports


Today, sports ethics are more than just what happens on the field.  Source: davepear.com

Each field of public relations faces its own ethical challenges. Because of its incessant growth in relevancy and reach, the sport industry and its unique obstacles merit consideration in the PR ethics discussion.

Changes in the field

The sports industry presents layers of identities for the public’s consumption, from specific sport communities to individual players.  As a public relations representative in this field, one must understand and manage not only the organization as a whole, but each team member as well.  With personal branding such a prevalent concept today, the individual is more visible than ever.  Independence, however, poses a threat to public relations control.


Personal foul

Balancing the management of the reputation of a player, the reputation of an organization, and the information that the public knows can pose an ethical dilemma.

When an individual acts with disregard to the organization’s values, the PR professional must work to maintain a positive standing between the coach or player and the fans, while remaining transparent and truthful throughout the process.

“Although some incidents were isolated acts, they will have a lasting effect on the reputation and integrity of the sport that took a lifetime to achieve,” said Brandi Boatner, as vice president of advocacy for the PRSSA. With each ethical situation carrying years of tradition and prestige, it is imperative to handle them with poise and honesty.


Education in ethics

The management of the Ray Rice scandal is an example of an ethical breach. When the first wave of information about the domestic abuse case was released, industry executives, such as Ravens head coach John Harbaugh and team owner Steve Bisciotti, commented on


Janay Rice (left), Rice’s wife, and Ray Rice (right) address the domestic abuse incident.  Source: si.com

Rice’s positive moral standing, while NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was curt about the issue. Though reputation management and cautious commenting are acceptable practices, ignoring the issue is not.

As a PR professional, one must consult all high-profile employees of an organization on how to address crisis situations properly. All authorities who released statements about Rice’s case should have addressed the unacceptable abuse. No one condemned Rice’s illegal behavior. The initial lack of taking responsibility created a defensive atmosphere for the rest of the case. Though no one can control another’s words or actions, as a PR representative, I would have felt it my duty to identify the illegality and intolerability of this case, consistent with my personal values and ethics.


Personal Credo

Stand up for what’s right and lay down he law,

that bigotry is intolerable and respect is for all.

To tell the whole truth, challenge each case,

and deliver the facts, whatever it takes.

Assume responsibility to nurture trust,

with unwavering commitment to means that are just.

I will uphold these convictions, maintain them through and through,

to improve my practice and everything I do.

-Alyssa Haduck


Royalty speaks at Grunig Gala



University of Maryland students and staff mingle before the Ninth Annual Grunig Gala on Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2016, at the Samuel Riggs IV Alumni Center.  Photo credit: Alyssa Haduck

Reigning as The Measurement Queen and ruling over the analytical realm of social media, Katie Paine presented “What Social Media Can (and Can’t) Tell You About Your Relationships” to University of Maryland students at the Ninth Annual Grunig Gala on Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2016, at the Samuel Riggs IV Alumni Center.  The keynote speaker shared her observations on measurement in social media, including why some current social media engagement is flawed, how to measure it, and what to do to improve it.


Aging Engagement

Paine started her speech by explaining that though social media analytics has become a common measure for public relations professionals, people are often looking at the wrong


Keynote speaker Katie Paine addresses Grunig Gala attendees.  Photo credit: Alyssa Haduck

statistics. Instead of questioning what more can be done to reach out to a public, one must consider what can’t be done. Some examples of social media reconsiderations include:

  • perceived audience orientation
  • day of the week/time of day of posts
  • keeping content on-brand


Above all, authenticity is key to initiating and maintaining positive social media engagement

“It’s still all about relationships,” Paine said. Though being social has changed from millenias ago to millennials today, the basis of purposeful communication remains the same.


Distinguished Discourse

Paine stressed that in order to be able to collect and analyze valuable data on social media interactions, engagements must have substance. She preached the importance quality interactions of trust and connection over quantity interactions of vanity metrics, such as shares, likes, or followers. The measurement professional also explained that relationships are earned, not owned, citing the necessity of investing in the knowledge of one’s public rather than in the initial output of information. Communication to the audience does not matter unless there is potential for improvement.


Fix It

After analyzing can/can’t content, measuring engagement, and preparing for more intimate social media interactions, it is finally time to fix faulty posting. Paine compared


Turtle centerpieces sat on round tables for the networking hour that took place before Paine’s speech.  Photo credit: Alyssa Haduck

social media to a cocktail party, explaining that if one, or one’s account, is obnoxious and generating excessive, useless information, then no one will pay attention to it. Interesting posts will draw viewers in and relevant content will encourage them to engage.


With Pain’s perspective on social media relationship measurement, public relations professionals can evaluate their current social media statuses and employ strategies for quality engagement over vanity interactions.


Explore this year’s Grunig Gala on Twitter or Instagram with #GrunigGala16.  Follow Katie Paine, Measurement Queen, on Twitter.

On Air with Alyssa

The Newseum’s NBC News Interactive Newsroom is impossible to miss. The glowing row of stalls on the second floor beckons curious visitors to test their broadcasting skills. Though I usually prefer to be behind the camera rather than in front of it, I enjoyed interacting with this fluid, digital aspect of communication that is uncommon in the classroom.

A visual directs visitors at the Newseum’s NBC News Interactive Newsroom, while stalls wait for guests of any age to practice broadcast journalism.                                               Photo credit: Alyssa Haduck


Three steps to ..3 ..2 ..1

It’s as simple as choose your story, grab the mic, and begin! To be a Newseum TV reporter, visitors can approach the media stand and choose an adult or child version of one of nine topics, including:


The media station provides visitors with story and location reporting options at the Newseum’s NBC News Interactive Newsroom.  Photo credit: Alyssa Haduck

  • sports with the Washington Nationals
  • Washington, D.C. politics
  • weather for the week

Once decided, the participant just picks up the microphone, stands in front of the camera, and waits for the teleprompter to start the story. I chose the Washington Nationals option because I am interested in pursuing a public relations position in the professional sports industry. The unpredictability of each day in sports satisfies my need for a dynamic career, while the organization itself represents a constant team community. Though my 20 seconds of amateur reporting with the NBC News Interactive Newsroom wasn’t perfect, the experience not only solidified my existing interests, but also exposed me to a curiosity in a more active role of communication.


Combining communication

With the security of editing, from delete to spell-check, I am most comfortable writing and having control over my communication. Reporting on paper does not pose any


Reporting sports news at the Newseum’s NBC News Interactive Newsroom proves to be more difficult than it seems.  Photo credit: Jessica Cooper

problems, but broadcasting on camera is an unfamiliar feat.

The NBC News Interactive Newsroom entertains visitors as a user-friendly and informative exhibit. After participating in the display, I realized that I could expand my reporting perspective to make the most of my position in public relations. Broadcast journalism, as practiced in this presentation, calls for oral communication, a particularly expressive and personal experience. I appreciate this approach to PR because I want to be immersed in my project and my public, finding facts, telling stories, and engaging my audience. I plan to apply the NBC News Interactive Newsroom exhibit experience to future PR endeavors.

Check out the Newseum’s website for more on exhibits, community, and news!