A Mad Bum Who Knows Crisis PR

Why does a 27-year-old athlete without a college education know that the best way to head off a potential PR crisis is to be honest, while highly experienced CEOs and heads of multinational corporations, who’ve had the benefit of media training, fail to learn this lesson?

Last Thursday (April 20) the San Francisco Giants’ Madison Bumgarner, a pitcher and arguably the team’s best player (he also hits well), spent a rare day off on a Honda dirt bike. He tooled around a course outside Denver with two family members.

shutterstock_590194562Major League Baseball teams have clauses in their player contracts prohibiting players from engaging in activities during the season that could result in injury. Some teams even ban players from activities such as swimming and sunbathing.  It’s a safe guess to say dirt biking is a proscribed activity.

Toward the end of the outing, Bumgarner, who says he’s an avid dirt biker, was involved in a minor accident that took a major toll on his prized pitching wing and perhaps his team’s season. An MRI this week will determine the extent of the sprain on his arm and shoulder. At this time, though, it’s uncertain whether or not Bumgarner will play again in 2017. If he does manage to return, he’ll need to rehab his arm extensively, the Giants say.

Bumgarner could have lied about the cause of his injury, defended his activities or even refused to meet the press. Instead, he tackled the situation head-on, addressing the media April 24 and admitting he hadn’t acted in the most responsible way. “Obviously, it wasn’t the best decision to go Thursday,” he told reporters during a press conference (remember those?).

He easily could have avoided talking about the issue. No way. “That’s just not who I am,” Bumgarner said during a press conference, MLB.com says. “If you’re going to do stuff like that, you’ve got to be honest about it. Obviously that doesn’t make the fact of the matter any better, but that’s just not who I am. I didn’t see any reason to try to lie about it.” Are you listening Oscar Munoz of United, former Wells Fargo chief John Stumpf, embattled Theranos leader Elizabeth Holmes and ousted Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn?

And what about Fox News? While it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison and one case is far more serious than the other, the Giants apparently are enforcing the prohibition on Bumgarner’s dirt biking as rigorously as Fox News Channel scolded Bill O’Reilly over the years for harassing female employees, which is to say hardly at all.

In fact, Bumgarner said Thursday he was expecting management to come down on him, but it’s been nothing but supportive. More authenticity from the young man: “I was expecting the worst and rightfully so. The team and the front office and everybody have been super encouraging, been really good to me throughout this process so far.” The operative words here are “so far.” Like O’Reilly, Bumgarner is the star, the cash cow. Apparently, there’s a different set of rules for him. The video linked here alleges that was the case for O’Reilly at Fox. You see how well that one has gone.

But, hey, if this baseball thing doesn’t work out—and there’s no guarantee Bumgarner will be the same player he was before the injury—he always can be a PR executive…specializing in crisis communications. And he’d be great to have on your brand’s softball team.

Follow Seth: @skarenstein