Super Bowl field

Image courtesy of antpkr/FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

About 2 weeks ago, a player from the Seattle Seahawks made a pretty spectacular play in a game against San Francisco. For a moment, he was probably one of the most popular people in the entire state of Washington, but the choices he made in the following 15 minutes (or so) have subjected him to some pretty harsh criticisms, and it might even be safe to say that he’s not really popular at all, even though his team made it into the big leagues.

Now, I don’t follow football very closely, so I really have no opinion on this player, this play or his behavior. I’m not sure what counts as “clean” in the world of the NFL. But, I do think that this particular incident has greater reverberations, in terms of reputation management.

Here’s why.

The Incident, and the Response

In a moment of fury, Richard Sherman said some pretty hateful and strange things in front of a camera and a reporter (see a clip here, if you haven’t seen it hundreds of times already). Within minutes, that thing spread like wildfire across the Internet, and many people chose to take sides. Some defended the player, but many others had things to say that weren’t positive at all.

A few days later, Sherman wrote up a blog post about the experience, and here’s where things get really interesting. This quote, in particular, I find intriguing:

“To those who would call me a thug or worse because I show passion on a football field—don’t judge a person’s character by what they do between the lines. Judge a man by what he does off the field, what he does for his community, what he does for his family.”

On the surface, this could be read as a pretty standard plea for tolerance, written by a guy who did something or said something pretty regrettable, and who hopes that the world at large will forgive him for his faux pas.

But, what if everyone out there who messed up suggested that a do-over was a necessity, as one moment doesn’t define the scope of a person’s life? What if businesses made this suggestion?

Common Public Reaction

It’s relatively commonplace for people to forgive celebrities for their major screw-ups (hello, Robert Downey, Jr.!). As long as people show some type of contrition, and they’re willing to just go away for a short period of time, they can often bounce right back and attain even greater levels of success.

But businesses that screw up can’t simply rest and fade into the background for a short period of time. They lose money by being off-line, and if going away means leaving consumers in the lurch, it’s generally not considered a great business move. In addition, consumers just seem slow to forgive a company that has even a momentary lapse in good taste or tact.

When Netflix chose to separate its company into two separate factions, for example, and the officials announced the move in an email message that some didn’t quite like, a reported 800,000 subscribers left the company, taking their money with them. Only now is the company recovering (and that recovery might be due solely to a few original shows that Netflix has produced that are more than a little addictive).

Lessons Learned

As this little example makes clear, moments do matter, in terms of business success. If “Richard Sherman” were a business and not a player, all of the pleas for a longer lens would be pretty worthless. People would be willing to judge based solely on the behavior that just took place, and they may not have anything nice to say during that judging process.

That’s why it’s simply vital for companies to pull together a quick-response team, just in case reputation disaster strikes. By utilizing social media to spread the word of the good the company is doing, and involving lawyers and coding experts to remove the information that’s bad, companies can react and respond. And they just might survive, too.

So as you watch the Super Bowl this Sunday, you might think about your company’s SWAT team. If a disaster comes, will you really be ready?