Getting out of the doghouse: The image repair strategies of Michael Vick

Lauren Myers writing.  In 2007, NFL quarterback Michael Vick was convicted of dog-fighting and sentenced to three years in prison.  Throughout the process, Vick only spoke once about his role in the operations, providing a six-minute apology during a press conference.  Mark Holdener and James Kauffman of Indiana University Southeast provide an analysis of his speech in their study.

To begin, here is what Vick had to say:

You can also find a full text of the speech here.

Holdener and Kauffman describe two main tactics they believe Vick used to begin repairing his reputation in his speech: corrective action (vowing to change his ways) and mortification (accepting full responsibility for his actions).

His mortification is apparent in statements such as the following:

“Like I said, for this—for this entire situation I never pointed the finger at anybody else, I accepted responsibility for my actions of what I did and now I have to pay the consequences for it.”

As Holdener and Kauffman explain, however, his corrective action is very brief, only referring to religious actions that he was taking:

“I’m upset with myself, and, you know, through this situation I found Jesus and asked him for forgiveness and turned my life over to God.  And I think that’s the right thing to do as of right now.”

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Additionally, Vick had one unique public he had to pay attention to throughout this ordeal.  Not only did he have to address his teammates, the organization, and his fans, but because of the nature of his crime, he also had to keep in mind animal rights activists.

In his statement, Vick addresses some of these publics, but not all.  He specifically mentions members of the NFL and his young fans.  He does not speak to those in the animal rights organizations.

What is obvious about Vick’s comments, as he explains at the beginning of the speech, is that they are from the heart.  Whether or not certain aspects of the speech were planned, Vick did not read from a prepared statement. Although this bodes well for the honesty and sincerity of his remarks (something integral to crisis communication efforts), it seems that he sometimes loses track of what he has already said and what he wants to say.  Perhaps reading from a prepared statement would have ensured that he addressed all target publics, including the animal rights organizations.

Regardless, six years after the fact, Vick has mounted what Good Morning America called “the comeback of all comebacks.”  He has also made specific efforts to coordinate with one public he did not address in his original statement.  Vick is now a strong supporter of animal rights and regularly speaks out against animal cruelty. This has been positive for both him and the organizations he works with. The Humane Society has made him a celebrity spokesperson in their campaigns against dog-fighting.  (Although some people see this as a public relations mistake). Here is a statement from the Humane Society on why they chose to use Vick as a celebrity endorser:

the humane society “Michael Vick was a role model for many young people, and he lost everything because of what he did to dogs. His story is the strongest possible example of why dogfighting is a dead end. Just as former drug addicts are able to reach people struggling with addiction, former dogfighters are some of the most effective voices against this crime. We realized the potential that Vick has to reach at-risk youth and pull them out of the quicksand of animal fighting.”

To read the Humane Society’s full page devoted to Michael Vick FAQ’s click here.

Although Vick did not make initial remarks of corrective action to appease members of animal rights groups, further actions he’s taken show the efforts he’s making toward change.  Successfully addressing all publics is integral to Vick’s success as an athlete and a person.  Vick’s work with the Humane Society is a prime example of ensuring he keeps in mind all key publics.

For more of my musings on public relations and sports, follow me on Twitter @laurenfmyers.

Holdener, M., & Kauffman, J. “Getting out of the doghouse: The image repair strategies of Michael Vick.” Public Relations Review, 40.1 (2014): 92-99. Web. 8 Feb. 2014 <http://dx.doi.org.libezp.lib.lsu.edu/10.1016/j.pubrev.2013.11.006>.

About lfmyers

Duke Law. LSU Mass Comm. Sports Fiend. Duke Alum.

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