What is private? In the locker room, just about nothing

One of the topics I frequently cover with both athletes and executives is that just about nothing is private, and that with today’s “new media” just about nothing is forgotten.

th8BDTOASIIn John Harbaugh’s case, as an NFL head coach, he is both an executive and a sports figure – and make no mistake that he must be a business person as much as the man who is the face of the Baltimore Ravens.

This blog is not so much about Harbaugh, as an example to every athlete who makes a drunken tweet, every AD who has ever posted something dumb on Facebook, every coach who was caught doing something when she or he thought they were off camera. In the world of ethics and reputation management, nothing is private.

Case in point was Harbaugh’s post-game, locker room comments to his team last Sunday. The “back story” is that Harbaugh was trying to make a point about how Baltimore can play great when it wants to play great, and really bad when it doesn’t give its full effort.

The Ravens had just won a game over the Tennessee Titans – that was the good news for Baltimore; but for emphasis he was talking about how the New York Jets had soundly defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers. The point being that Pittsburgh had beaten Baltimore the week before – and the implication was that the lowly (this season) New York Jets had beaten Pittsburgh. He mocked both teams. In the normal scheme of things, in the privacy of a locker room, no one would have much cared one way or the other.


Aaron Wilson, a writer for the Baltimore Sun wrote in his article (November 10, 2014): “CBS apologizes for playing John Harbaugh’s postgame remarks,” talked about the CBS camera crew who was in the locker room after the game.

The coach specifically asked the crew to not tape the post-game comments until he told them it was OK to do so. According to the article:

“The Ravens later issued a statement about the CBS incident…The comments made by John Harbaugh in the locker room following today’s victory over the Titans were meant for Ravens players and coaches only,” Ravens senior vice president of public and community relations Kevin Byrne said in a statement. “’The CBS-TV crew that was in the locker room was told by Coach Harbaugh that it could not broadcast what he was about to say.’”

“When Coach Harbaugh finished talking about various things happening around the NFL and in the AFC North, he told the crew that it could now use what he was going to say. Inexplicably, CBS-TV then aired comments Coach Harbaugh specifically said were not to leave the locker room. CBS-TV immediately pulled the video and apologized to the Ravens.”

Doesn’t matter now, does it?

Whether CBS made an honest mistake or whether some local sportscaster was trying to make a name for themselves by being controversial doesn’t really matter. Harbaugh embarrassed himself and the team and I can imagine the New York Jets and Pittsburgh Steelers are not about to forget what he said.

In hindsight, he should have said nothing. In hindsight he should have never trusted that the media would keep its word.

I was talking about tweeting a little earlier. A drunk professional basketball player can tweet out that her coach is a *&^%$ idiot. If she has 5,000 followers, even if she realizes what she did, by the time she deletes that tweet, maybe 500 followers saw it; the damage has been done.

For the record, nothing is off the record. For the record, nothing in sports is really hidden.

It all goes back to reputation. Anything said or shown or posted or tweeted can be used for good, and anything said can be used for bad. The coach needed to say what he had to say at a private team meeting. Now his comments will live forever thanks to a camera crew that didn’t keep its word.

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