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Top Ten Worst PR Moves in U.S. Sports History

Moments that have you asking “did that just happen?”

It's official (I think) - LeBron James has made one of the worst public relations mistakes in U.S. sports history. Congratulations, King James! It's a sports feat for which he wasn't training, but what's even more impressive is the fact that this was all his choosing.

Some PR blunders are spur-of-the-moment, while others are planned events gone wrong. James's event was a calculated publicity circus that led up to his decision to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat. Don't get me wrong, Cleveland was never going to be happy with him leaving for another NBA team. However, he could have handled it much better - and by better, I mean not crushing the city of Cleveland, and with it the country's pull for the "hometown hero," on a nationally televised show called "The Decision." Somewhere Kobe Bryant is slightly relieved.

The latest PR debacle got me thinking about other well-publicized PR mistakes in sports history. Certainly open for outside opinions and debate, I've compiled a list of my top ten worst PR moves in U.S. sports history.

  • LeBron James - Players leave teams or get traded all the time, so why is this #1? The Ohio "hometown hero" created a publicity fiasco that not only humiliated his hometown fans in the most public way possible, but also alienated nearly all NBA fans in general (outside of Miami Heat fans). I mean, who really arranges to go on national television and publicly divorce himself from his hometown city and team? "The King," that's who!
  • Babe Ruth - When the Boston Red Sox manager sold pitcher/outfielder George Herman Ruth, "Babe Ruth," to the New York Yankees in 1920, the "Curse of the Bambino" began to materialize. Before he was traded, Ruth helped win three World Series games for the Red Sox, and prompted a winning streak for New York that would haunt Boston fans for decades. After this trade, Boston didn't see another World Series title for 86 years. Ouch - that hurts the public image!
  • Tiger Woods - For years, Tiger Woods arguably had one of the best images in all of sports. All people could imagine was Tiger holding a golf club, winning title after title and going down as one of the greatest ever to play the game. However, after his car struck a tree as he fled from the family home in a gated community near Orlando, Florida, people began questioning, "what's up with Tiger?" A series of revelations followed from at least 15 identified women who claimed they had affairs with the golfer. The scandal led to Woods losing millions in sponsorship deals, including those with Gillette, Accenture, AT&T and PepsiCo, a $100 million divorce settlement with his estranged wife, Elin Nordegren, and a forever tainted public image.
  • Pete Rose - Over a three-decade career in baseball, Peter Rose earned the nickname "Charlie Hustle" for his aggressive play and desire to win. He set dozens of records - including breaking Ty Cobb's record for the most hits ever. But in 1989, reports emerged that Rose, then the Reds' manager, was gambling on baseball. After a six-month investigation by Major League Baseball, on Aug. 24 of that year, he agreed to leave baseball for life. Denying for nearly 15 years that he bet on baseball, Major League Baseball's Hit King finally admitted in his autobiography, published in January 2004, that he made baseball wagers while he managed the Cincinnati Reds.
  • Robert Irsay - For nearly 40 years, the Colts called Baltimore home. However, years of success and popularity with players such as Johnny Unitas and coaches such as Don Shula, winning two World Championships and the 1971 Super Bowl, quickly sent the Colts into a decline. Owner Robert Irsay, who acquired the Colts in 1972, wanted the city of Baltimore to upgrade its stadium. But with attendance dwindling and the team playing poorly, city officials were wary of such an investment. Relations between Irsay and the city worsened, and he began shopping his team around to other cities hungry for an NFL franchise. In late March of 1984, Irsay shook the sports landscape by secretly moving the franchise to Indianapolis in the middle of the night, leaving a city of deeply devoted fans in shock and disbelief.

To check out the remaining five, click here for my original post.

More Stories By Ryan Greives

I am the senior public relations specialist at cleverbridge, a proven leader in global subscription billing technology, services and expertise. I lead the development, execution and measurement of the global PR and social media strategy. Prior to cleverbridge, I was vice president of BLASTmedia’s B2B Practice Group, providing strategic counsel, while driving tactical execution for a diverse range of clients. I led some of the agency’s largest campaigns, conducted launch campaigns for numerous startups and helped many emerging brands build their profile. Working with a wide variety of companies at all stages of growth, I have managed client strategy and messaging for clients such as 3Tera (acquired by CA in 2010), Bluelock, iGoDigital (acquired by ExactTarget in 2012), Code 42 Software, Tanita, NuCurrent, Woopra, Gordano, Ontario Systems and Mi Media (FRA: 8MK).

You can connect with me on Twitter, LinkedIn or Google+.