Severing Ties With Troubled Athletes: How Far Will Teams Go?

I posted an article to Digg about the New England Patriots of the National Football League (NFL) offering free Aaron Hernandez jersey exchanges for all fans. Hernandez was recently charged with first degree murder along with five gun-related charges.

Former New England Patriots football tight end Aaron Hernandez

Former New England Patriots football tight end Aaron Hernandez won’t see any Patriots jerseys with his name on it anytime soon. (Ted Fitzgerald/Boston Herald via AP Photo via ABC News)

Fans were allowed to exchange their Hernandez with a jersey of any other Patriot of their choice. As of July 7, reports show over 1,200 Hernandez jersey exchanges had been completed.

The piece, written by Charles Harris, examines what the Patriots were willing to do to rid themselves of Hernandez and any fan connections he had to the city of New England. Harris adds that “fans need no longer feel embarrassed about the purchase or the link to this troubled player and the move will surely create a more positive opinion about the team in the short run”. By simply getting Hernandez jerseys out of circulation with this tactical business decision, the Patriots have all to gain from this, including good PR.

My question: Are teams willing to go this far to rid themselves of certain players? This practice has been used before but very rarely so and usually in less-serious cases.

The San Francisco Giants removed all images of former outfielder Barry Bonds from AT&T Park following his departure from the team in 2007. Bonds has steroid allegations and perjury charges hanging over his head and it’s no surprise that the Giants were so willing to cut off ties to Major League Baseball’s all-time home run leader. Team President Peter Macgowan said that it was “time to turn the page”.

Last year, after the Columbus Blue Jackets had traded forward Jeff Carter to Los Angeles in exchange for defenseman Jack Johnson, the team ran a promotion that for one game only, the team store would change any Carter nameplate to Jack Johnson’s for free. Carter was acquired in the summer of 2011 from the Philadephia Flyers in exchange for forward Jakub Voracek, a 1st round pick and a 3rd round pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. Early in the 2011/2012 season, it was rumoured that Carter was unhappy in Columbus and had requested a trade. So it’s not a surprise that the team was willing to do this promotion. It employs an ‘us vs. him’ mentality and unites the team and the fan base. The team and the fans were willing to put Carter in the past and toss his half-season history with the team out the door.

I expect teams to do this more and more as time goes on. From a branding perspective, it can create an identity of the right kind of players you want on your team and therefore, the kind of fans you want on your side. In the Carter case, it showed that the Blue Jackets had said ‘you either want to be here or you don’t’. This kind of a promotion also can create a standard of conduct that your players should have. Even though this is stated in contracts and documents, when the consequences that a player like Hernandez faces for his actions hit, they hit hard. The salary, the endorsement deals, everything goes down the drain. The fact is nobody wants to be associated with that kind of activity and in my view, teams should absolutely be willing to take the actions necessary to distance themselves from a player that went against what the team stands for.

I posted this article to Digg because the Aaron Hernandez story is still relatively fresh in our minds and it is interesting to see what teams are willing to do cut ties with troubled players to preserve their brand. Brand management is huge in sports and this was a good move by the Patriots. It was probably the easy move too.

I look forward to your comments and what you think about this kind of a promotion. Should teams do this?


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3 Responses to Severing Ties With Troubled Athletes: How Far Will Teams Go?

  1. timeouttalk says:

    I definitely think teams should do this. Like you said, it’s all about team identity and what kind of fans you want. I know if I had an Hernadez jersey, I would not want to wear it anyone. I wouldn’t want to rep an athlete that committed crime. It’s an opportunity for teams to tell there fans – yes, we know he made a mistake and has loss respect from the fans and others but we still want you to be a number 1 Patriots fan so come on in and pick out another jersey, on us. A team is made up of tons of players, not just one. And now fans can enjoy wearing a new favorite player of theirs. This is a great way to do some damage control by maintaining loyal fans.

    • Absolutely. At the end of the day, it is the business aspect of the team that drives them forward and not the actions of one individual taking them the other way. Thanks for the comment. Looking forward to more of yours!

  2. Marcus says:

    All teams remove images and other memorabilia post trade but comparing trades to a player during a murder investigation is a little different. Barry Bonds is beloved in San Francisco and will one day have his number retired even with the steroid scandal. I have a feeling Aaron Hernandez won’t even receive a Christmas card.

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