PR Insider: King Tipping

Nearing the end of a chess match, there is a single, non-verbal move one can make to concede. This move should only be used when defeat is imminent and the chance for victory is nil. The king piece must be intentionally tipped over to signal the game’s end. From there, handshakes and pleasantries are exchanged, and the next game awaits.

David Robinson
David Robinson

Judging by recent news, it would seem that the art of “king tipping” has found a place within the sports world. Another critical blow was dealt to college athletics as a massive cheating scandal was uncovered at the University of North Carolina (UNC). However, before the media had a chance to scrutinize the pseudo classes and undeserved grades, UNC tipped their king and nine university employees were either fired or placed under disciplinary review. The NCAA has yet to sanction any penalties, but with UNC cooperating with the investigation, what’s the rush?

This isn’t the first time a sports entity has tried king tipping.

On the (Tar)heels of this cheating scandal, the University of Notre Dame announced that it was willing to self-sanction their football program should any of the suspended  players  be deemed ineligible. The university’s football program ended up suspending five players for the season because of academic fraud investigations. There was public outcry upon the release of this story, but it was quickly quelled. More importantly, the school managed to salvage their reputation.

Unfortunately, the search results on this subject don’t end there.

The NFL’s PR crisis is still fresh in the public’s mind. The NFL came under much public scrutiny for only suspending Baltimore Ravens’ Ray Rice for two games. Rice was accused of domestic abuse toward his then-fiancé. The two-game suspension was a league standard for domestic violence cases. Interestingly, the Baltimore Ravens seemingly managed to avoid public scrutiny by terminating Rice before any penalty was handed out. Is this the new go-to move during a crisis?

As with king tipping in chess, there are three careful steps to evaluate before self-sanctioning:

  1. Properly Assess Damage – take the time to consider all aspects of a situation. What happens if you do A? Will this affect B? Although we live in a world that is sped up by social media, one must do the proper research in-house before rushing to make a decision that the public will see.
  2. Run the Gambit – Carefully consider all possible decisions before making your next move to determine the desired outcome. This is a task that may require seeking outside help from communication and media strategists. Consult the experts; they’re there for a reason. More options will lead to a better informed decision.
  3. Proceed with Caution and Confidence – Once the first two steps are followed, boldly go forth with your decision and stand by it. Also, the period right after a crisis is when trust in reputation is most volatile. Beware of possible missteps and other issues that might receive undue attention as a result of the initial crisis.

In chess, one of the worst feelings is being blindsided by a move. On the other hand, the worst counter-move is a rushed one. Crisis can happen at any moment. That’s why sports owners, general managers, or anyone in decision-making positions that involve athletics must have the ability to see the entire board. This way even during the midst of a crisis, one can still make well-informed decisions. King tipping can be a coup de grace move that helps alleviate social pressure from the media mob, and may also help one from becoming the next landmark case. Hopefully before the next PR crisis, sports organizations will consider the broader scope of the game before they make their next move. Be mindful though; a king that is tipped too often will eventually lose a kingdom.

David Robinson is a Fellow at Levick Public Relations. Follow David: @davidforscale.