The New England Patriots had its world flipped upside down last week when one of their players, Aaron Hernandez, a tight end oozing with potential was arrested and charged with first degree murder and 5 firearm charges. Think that’s bad? The very next day, Hernandez became a leading suspect for a 2012 double homicide.
Talk about crisis communications for the New England Patriots! What would you do? A star employee gets entangled in a nationally televised news story for murder. Would you back him up 100% until you knew for sure he was guilty? Or would cut ties right from the beginning and try to clean your hands right away? The Patriots, in typical Patriots fashion, chose the latter and released Hernandez.
Being an avid Miami Dolphin fan since I was young, I’ve been exposed to the Patriots and how they run their show for a while now. They are a tight-run ship and conduct business in the most professional way. They have taken troubled players in the past and have transformed them into role models. Being an alleged murderer does not fit the Patriots mold. Their head coach and owner don’t like the extra attention of one of their players show boating, there was no way this was going to fly.
The Patriots still owe Hernandez over $12 million over the next two years, but that didn’t matter to them. Hernandez was released before he was officially arrested and charged with murder. Nothing good could from this situation, if you are the Patriots. You were going to pay the $12 million to the player whether this happened or not, so you might as well as cut the problem at the bud and keep the damage to a minimum. By cutting Hernandez before the media circus really started, the Patriots put a stop to the potential negative media storm and distraction heading their way. Could you imagine every time Aaron Hernandez’s name popped on the screen, a Patriots logo next to his name and it would read, “New England Patriots’ Aaron Hernandez.” Woof. Talk about bad press.
Some people are not fans of the Patriots’ decision, but it was the perfect option for them. Over the last decade, the Patriots have created a brand, which most people recognize as professional and not dealing with distractions. If they chose to support Hernandez through his trial, their building and training facilities would’ve been a media circus, and they would never come out the winner. You do not want your brand and a murderer being constantly shown on the television screen. The Patriots are even allowing fans who bought Hernandez’s jersey to trade it in for free. They are clearly trying to sever all ties with him and the negative press that is sure to follow.
Crisis communications is never an easy time for any company or organization. Silence is a good answer sometimes, but a preventative plan is even better. The Patriots saw the storm brewing and decided to not partake. I think what the Patriots have done is a great move for their brand and image. And isn’t that the most important thing? You shouldn’t let anything or anyone be bigger than your brand and image. Even if it means cutting ties with your one of your most talented employees. Similar to how Livestrong cut ties with Lance Armstrong and everyone who cut ties with Paula Deen. Other teams might have backed their player all through court, but I believe the Patriots made the absolute right call. What do you think?