Pete Rose is my role model. Mike Tyson is my mentor. O.J. Simpson
is my spiritual guide. In fact, everything I ever needed to
know--about how to live and whom to trust and how to treat other
people--I learned not in kindergarten but from Kobe. "Anyone can
point to Ray Lewis or Rae Carruth or Mark Gastineau and say,
'What a knucklehead,'" says Mike Paul, a public-relations
professional who specializes in crisis- and reputation-management.
"But why not look at these guys and ask, 'Where am I falling
short, and what can I learn from them?'"
And so your child's most important preschool instructor may well
be Janet Jackson. "We teach kids even before kindergarten that no
true apology has an if or a but in it," says Paul, counselor and
confidant to countless professional athletes through his New York
City-based firm, MGP & Associates PR. "After the Super Bowl,
Janet Jackson said, in essence, 'I'm sorry, but I didn't do
anything wrong.' Justin Timberlake said, 'I apologize if I
offended anyone.' They're not taking responsibility."
Paul is not wanting for potential clients this week, what with
the Hindenburging reputations of La Salle basketball, Miami
football and NBA mercenary Carlos Boozer. Your sports section, in
a strange way, is a daily self-help manual, the only guru you
will ever need. Kobe rhymes with Obi-Wan Kenobi. The lone-wolf
Lakers guard teaches us that the only thing more dangerous than
running with the wrong crowd is running with no crowd. "I'll hear
many times, when I ask an athlete who he has surrounded himself
with, that it's a bunch of yes-men," says Paul. "But it's worse
to hear the excuse--the lie--that 'I'm a loner, I like being by
myself, that's my personality.' People who say that have another
agenda, which is to maintain a side that they don't want anyone
to know about."
That's why Shane Spencer is my swami. The Mets outfielder was
arrested last week after allegedly driving 96 mph in the middle
of the night on I-95 in Florida. Since he was charged with
misdemeanor driving under the influence, I've fallen under his
influence. And what he taught me is this: "Sign up for a limo
service!" says Paul. "I've given this talk so many times. Some of
these guys never had a car growing up. Now that they can have any
car they want, they don't want anyone else to drive it. I've told
athletes in the NFL and NBA, 'Buy a limo company. Give your
teammates the number on a card, tell your friends to use your
cars when they drink. With a limo, you're still styling. And you
don't have to bother with parking.'"
The path to enlightenment was paved by Jayson Williams who, alas,
did use a limo service. "If I were his p.r. person," Paul says of
the ex-Net who was found not guilty of aggravated manslaughter in
the shooting death of a chauffeur, "I'd tell him, 'Some things
are just fact: Your carelessness with guns, the [cocky] way you
talk--these are not just perceptions, they're facts.' You have to
have humility, and he's not there yet."
As Williams will discover, the court of law is distinct from the
court of public opinion. "If you're in trouble," says Paul,
"you're gonna get advice from your lawyer, and that's the last
thing you want to follow in building a reputation. O.J. Simpson
listened to his lawyer and stayed out of jail, but what happened?
His lawyer's reputation became 10 times greater than it was
before the trial. And O.J.'s became 10 times worse."
When George O'Leary was discovered to have lied on the resume
that got him hired, then fired, as football coach at Notre Dame,
his younger brother phoned Paul for pro bono advice. Paul
suggested that O'Leary tell the truth--that he tell students in
hundreds of schools the perils of lying on a resume. Says Paul,
"He'd [have been] seen as a savior."
Confession is good for the soul and for the stomach. "I had the
CFO of a company break down and start crying over lunch," says
Paul. "He said, 'I can't tell this lie anymore, I have ulcers, my
family is thinking of leaving me, and I can't deal with this any
longer: I've been cooking the books for years.'"
That's why Bobby Knight is my life coach. "It's not too late for
him or for anybody to say, 'I've done some wrong things in life,
and I want to come clean,'" says Paul. "Look at Lyle Alzado. He
came clean at the end, said he'd done some crazy things to his
Forget the Andre Agassi adage, "Image is everything." As Paul
tells athletes, "An image is fake, but a reputation is built. If
you want to build a positive reputation, you don't need spin, you
need bricks. And those bricks better include humility, truth,
transparency and accountability, which will then build character
and integrity. Those, ultimately, equal a positive long-term
And so Ricky Williams is my role model. He'd rather give up the
Miami Dolphins than give up marijuana? "He should want to walk
down the street and hear, 'That's the guy who used to play for
Miami,' not 'There's a druggie or doper or chicken,'" says Paul.
"And he's going to hear a lot of that until he comes to truth
with himself and says, 'I've made some big mistakes.'"
All of which is to say this: Those who claim "The sports section
is my Bible" may be more accurate than they realize. In both, the
truth really will set you free.
COLOR PHOTO: SIMON BRUTY
What does Shane Spencer's DUI arrest teach us? "Sign up for a
limo service!" says reputation-management expert Mike Paul.