In the world of PR, it’s not just what you say, but what media outlet you say it to. A perfect example? Basketball star Jason Collins coming out in a cover story in Sports Illustrated. By all accounts, this was a major announcement: Collins is the first male major league athlete to reveal he’s gay. By PR accounts, the way he made the announcement was even more interesting.
That there are gay athletes is a given. Women’s sports seem to be more tolerant; women’s basketball pro Brittany Griner came out recently, and the hullaballoo rating was low. But in men’s basketball, baseball, football, and hockey, the policy is don’t ask, don’t tell. While opponents, and even teammates, may be openly homophobic, there is also the question of fan reaction. Will the people who spend billions on sporting event tickets and merchandise tolerate openly gay players, and the teams who draft them?
This past Monday, Collins revealed that he was gay directly to a media outlet that speaks to the sports fan: Sports Illustrated. The magazine is known for its sports reporting but is most famous for its annual Swimsuit Issue, the cover of which – a barely clad female beauty – tells much about its audience. If fan reaction was in question, Collins addressed it directly.
THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) to Jason Collins. It’s not just what he said and how he said it, but to whom he said it.
THE PR TAKEAWAY: When making an unexpected announcement, consider making it via an unexpected source. How typical – and not terribly brave – it might have been for Collins to weep on Oprah’s shoulder, or Ellen’s, or Anderson Cooper’s as the latter two compared coming out stories. The hosts would have been all too sympathetic, and Collins would have lost face with sports fans. However revealing his truth via Sports Illustrated almost said, “This isn’t a big deal.” It is, of course, and it may go into PR history books as a slam dunk.