Tuesday, October 28, 2014

When PR goes poorly

Immediately following last night's Cowboys-Indigents game, Washington quarterback Colt McCoy gave a lighthearted interview that ended with head coach Jay Gruden giving his substitute star a hug at his brother Jon's joking request. McCoy then stopped by ESPN Deportes reporter John Sutcliffe, seemingly eager to give another quick interview. Suddenly, a guy in a suit yanked McCoy away, essentially shoved the surprised reporter out the way and barked, "No means no!" in his direction. (Sutcliffe did, in fact, eventually land an interview.)

Watching this live made me perhaps angrier than it should have. But I couldn't get it out of my mind. It's probably my twin biases of having been a reporter (including football) and having once been physically thrown against a fence by an overzealous volunteer marshal at a college track meet (I was videotaping an event, and apparently I sort of crossed an invisible line I didn't know about).

Like most of us, I learned soon after that the offender in question is Tony Wyllie, a public-relations official for the Washington franchise. In other words, a man whose job description is presenting his company in the best possible light at all times. (Though given how many gaffes the team named the Redskins for God's sake has rolled off the assembly line lately, maybe this lapse in judgment isn't all too shocking.)

I get that people in these situations need handlers, and that sometimes you have to be stern to get them where they need to be in time. But there are better ways to do it than to manhandle people. In 2002, I was covering a meeting at the Louisiana State Capitol for a reporting class. Afterward, I stood among a reporter scrum with then-Gov. Mike Foster. He continued to talk through two or three exhortations by his assistant to head over to his next meeting. She was increasingly firm to the point of grabbing his arm at the last moment, but was almost apologetic to us, because she realized we had a job to do too.

Maybe Wyllie is normally that way, I don't know. Maybe the fact that we saw it live overly amplified its effect. And I suppose the "No means no!" cry can divide people among cheerleaders, critics and/or those who found it hilarious. On its own, it's kind of silly. But after seeing Wyllie manhandle two people in excess of what the situation required, I wasn't in the mood to laugh. 

I've noticed from reading articles and tweets about this incident that almost nobody mentions his heavy-handed actions toward the reporter. I guess people raised on a steady diet of prime-time TV think that's an occupational hazard. In a way it is, but angry hands should never be applied where words will do. 

In any case, I can't imagine why anybody thinks Wyllie's actions were laudable. (Homerism, maybe?) At best, they were regrettable and of the moment and at worst, they were a power trip. Nothing to celebrate either way.

Still, I'm glad Washington won.

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