The Sounds of Silence from John Henry's Office
One of the most interesting moments in the painful September saga of the Boston Red Sox's collapse was owner John Henry's surprise visit to the 98.5 The Sports Hub radio sports show. Without entourage, he just showed up and accepted an interview, in effect indicating he was tired of hearing all of the criticisms their on-air hosts were hurling his way regarding his role, and wanting to give his side of the story. It wasn't a great interview, but it was oddly fascinating, and I remember at the time having grudging respect for the Red Sox owner for making this bold move and breaking (pun intended) radio silence on the sinking Sox.
So where is that John Henry with regard to the mess that has been swirling about his relatively new investment in what he hopes to be the next big global brand, post Red Sox, the Liverpool FC club? Living with a family of international football fanatics, I have been hearing about the situation in Liverpool for weeks. The incident itself involved a heated exchange in the goal mouth during a match that involved Liverpool striker, Uruguayan Luis Suarez and Manchester United defender, Senegalese Patrice Evra. Evra left the game very upset, telling his management that Suarez had insulted him with a series of racial slurs during the game. An ensuing and thorough FA investigation resulted in Suarez being found guilty and being charged with an 8-game suspension.
The Liverpool FC and their fans were outraged by the FA decision and continued to support Suarez, led by their manager Kenny Dalglish, who even donned a tee shirt supporting Suarez at a game after the decision came down. Here was his own tweet the day of the decision:
Very disappointed with today's verdict. This is the time when @luis16suarez needs our full support. Let's not let him walk alone. KD
Owners John Henry and Tom Werner have been silent on the entire situation, including the Liverpool Club's decision to back Suarez and not to push for an apology from Suarez which could have mitigated this entire crisis. Now the two clubs square off again on Saturday January 28 in an FA Club match at home for Liverpool. Evra is expected to play and is bracing for potentially more slurs from the fans and, possibly, the opposing team members. Suarez will not be playing, due to his suspension. And in the midst of his silence, John Henry and his band of sports investors, are rumored to be considering bringing a Liverpool vs. AC Roma match to Fenway Park.
The decision-making from a communications and crisis standpoint just boggles the mind, doesn't it? First of all, does Henry condone racial slurs of other players? His silence may portend just that. Shouldn't he be pushing for something to tamp down the fury rather than covering his ears and eyes and wishing it will go away? How about insisting that his manager and team members not fan the flames with tee shirts? How about insisting that this grown man, Suarez, apologize? The lengthy explanations that in his native language the statements Suarez made were not intended to be racial slurs is what I would call protesting too much. And the potential for more embarrassment tomorrow is something Henry should be getting ahead of so it's clear this is not something he condones or expects from his players.
How do you think Bob Kraft, owner of The New England Patriots and the New England Revolution would be responding to this crisis? Do you think he'd be silent? I don't.
So although I've often recommended that depriving a story of oxygen by not having spokespeople get into he said/she said/they said exchanges on air or online, I think the current avoidance technique (not sure what else to call it) that Henry is exhibiting, isn't working in his favor. Witness the MirrorFootball column that calls it out as an indication that he's not really serious about Liverpool or international football. And anyone who lives with a football fan, as I do, knows this is a passionate crowd that you don't take lightly. There's management of a situation like this -- which could be controlled with at the very least a statement -- and then there is the passive letting it play out approach that is being adopted at present, it seems, by Henry and cohorts.
I'd rethink your communications strategy, Mr. Henry, and I'd do it fast. Kickoff is tomorrow morning at 7:45 a.m. (U.S. e.s.t.). Get busy.