Anna Burns Welker, the wife of the New England Patriots’ wide receiver Wes Welker, recently lashed out at Ray Lewis via Facebook after the Pats fell to Baltimore in the AFC Championship on January 20. Though she later apologized, news websites quickly coined her actions as “pulling a Gisele.” In case you don’t recall, last year after the Patriots lost Super Bowl XLVI to the New York Giants, Gisele Bündchen blamed husband Tom Brady’s teammates for the loss because of dropped passes – but she never ended up apologizing. But Bündchen and Burns Welker aren’t the first NFL wives to find themselves in the negative spotlight (Brenda Warner, anyone?).
There is a crazy fascination in the media with pro sports players’ wives “gone rogue.” Whether it’s blatant sexism or just a pop culture effect, there is a double standard that applies in the professional sports industry when a spouse makes a public remark versus a player doing the same thing (or worse). While the negative attention isn’t a good thing, spouses can have a positive influence on a player or team’s image—if done correctly. I’ll even go out on a limb here to suggest that an occasional controversial remark made by a supportive spouse (purely the result of high emotions) is just the right amount of unpredictability that teams can use on occasion to shake things up. When it comes down to it, an NFL team is still just a brand, but adding some personality in the form of a tweet, Facebook status or TV interview can help strengthen team loyalty. However, when it happens twice in a year to a team that is, ironically enough, known to be the most tightly disciplined (and tightly lipped) in the NFL, it may be time to start considering whether the discipline that the players receive on and off the field should be carried on to include their families, too.
All NFL players receive media training by team publicists and agents and are therefore liable for any public remarks, but wives typically do not receive the same training. Although there are no ‘official’ consequences to Burns Welker’s and Bündchen’s remarks, when this kind of thing happens it pulls the focus off of its players, and instead of writing about the game highlights, the media plays out the drama and casts the entire team in a negative light. Some basic media training and establishing a standard of conduct for family across the board would give the wives a better understanding of how they can best represent the franchise and their husbands, while also maintaining a positive personal image and reputation. Spouses are heavily invested in their husband’s team performance. Without media training, it’s easy to see how heated emotions can result in a misguided, inappropriate remark.
With everything digitally logged into the internet universe these days, negative stories can be dug up and mentioned again every time a similar situation occurs, making it impossible for readers to forget and move on. Since Gisele never tried to make up for her remarks and apologize, her story will always be linked to Burns Welker’s as a ‘what not to do’ scenario in media training 101. But media training isn’t only for professional athletes and celebrities who often turn up in front page news of the entertainment section. This is one big example of why we believe it’s beneficial for everyone in the spotlight, whether it’s a small business owner or the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, to receive some form of media training. This way, the brand that they represent is always portrayed in a positive way and people associated with the brand are also armed with the information they need to stay aligned with the brand messaging and image.
What do you think about these NFL wives’ comments? Are they a public relations nightmare, or an unintentional – yet effective – way to make homepage news?