Reggie Jackson will always be remembered as one of the greatest players to ever wear the New York Yankees pinstripes.
Dubbed “Mr. October” following his legendary performance in the 1977 World Series, Jackson’s playing career has afforded him the ultimate respect. And as a result, people listen to what Jackson has to say, and his opinions on all matters baseball are not taken lightly.
But recently Jackson, who now serves as a special adviser for the Yankees, has found himself in damage-control mode after comments about Alex Rodriguez, one of the biggest stars in New York and, yes, a fellow employee.
The controversy stems from a Sports Illustrated article in which Jackson says that Rodriguez’s statistics were tainted because of his use of performance-enhancing drugs. He also says he didn’t feel several players, including the late Gary Carter and Kirby Puckett, belonged in the Hall of Fame.
"But I think there are real questions about [Rodriguez's] numbers. As much as I like him, what he admitted about his usage does cloud some of his records," Jackson says in the SI article.
The comments spread like wildfire, and were picked up by local and national media, creating a headache the Yankees didn’t want to deal with. Jackson, who can usually be found somewhere around the team, was essentially put on timeout by the organization, having been told to stay away from the team indefinitely.
The Yankees’ decision shows that, no matter how big of a star you are, protecting the image of your brand is bigger than any one employee. Yes, Jackson is a living legend in New York, but as an employee of the Yankees, everything he says in relation to the Yankees reflects on the brand. And in 2012, Rodriguez is the much bigger star—and it's more important to protect his ego.
But, from a PR perspective, are the Yankees creating an even bigger mess by publicly distancing the organization from Jackson? After all, Rodriguez did in fact use PEDs. Will fans take sides in a “battle” the organization could have avoided by taking a different route in response to Jackson's comments?
“This is a very sensitive situation that has to be handled delicately as to not alienate the relationship the Yankees have with one of their legend players, Reggie Jackson, but also to preserve their brand,” says LaTonya P. Story of LPS Consulting PR and a sports publicist veteran of 12 years. “In the immediate reaction, it is apparent the stance the Yankees are taking without having to say it, which is: No one is bigger than the Yankees' brand. This is a cautionary tale for younger players that no one, regardless of their iconic position, will overshadow or tarnish a corporate/sports brand.”
The Yankees moved quickly to “punish” Jackson. The message of who’s still in charge in New York was clear to him, the fans and the media.
Follow Jamar Hudson: @jamarhudson