Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Ambassadors Can Hurt You

News broke with all the welcome of some ill-timed, post fondu flatulence that Tag Heuer has bailed out of their negotiations with (now) former brand ambassador Maria Sharapova.  Ms. Sharapova was "touched" for a positive sample that bore Meldonium.  For those readers out there who do not frequent pharmacies in former Soviet satellite nations, Meldonium is (per the Guardian's reporting) -

used to treat ischaemia: a lack of blood flow to parts of the body, particularly in cases of angina or heart failure.

Now while I will be the first to chime in with "CHEATING IS BAD", let's really look at this in light of recent scandals as it does beg the question of just how far does a celebrity ambassador - or a company employee for that matter - have to have screwed up before the chord gets cut?

Tiger Woods - Golf superstar, devoted husband and father, serious challenger to Wilt Chamberlain's record - and no, I'm not referring to the 100 points he dropped on the Knicks back in 1962.  Nike stood by him, and he is now a Rolex ambassador.

Tom Brady - Arguably one of the all-time greatest quarterbacks in NFL history, may or may not have colluded with confederates to alter the air pressure in footballs, easy on the eyes (or so I've been told) - didn't miss a beat and is now one of the faces of Tag Heuer.

George Hincapie - A super cyclist - there is no disputing that.  After stonewalling and helping to ruin several other cyclists careers as a "loyal lieutenant", he is now reborn.  Dipped in magic waters and lauded by a certain Geneva brand.

The more cynical out there might opine that as Ms. Sharapova's positive doping test ran parallel to a perceived decline in her tennis abilities and her age (i.e. marketability with "red-blooded men"), and this made it more of a financial decision than one of morality for Nike and Tag Heuer.  If I am very honest, I don't really care if it did or it didn't.  The day of the ambassador is slowly, thankfully sputtering to an end.  And I think that perhaps this is for the best as it will encourage watch companies to make and promote watches.

But the Sharapova case is poignant because when it comes to the behavior of ambassadors there are mistakes, and well, mistakes.

If we are honest with ourselves, what is clear is that the world of sport is not the Olympian ideal that we once held it to be.  The competition is tough, and it does not tolerate second place.

And while I hold Tommie Smith in extremely high regard for his stance at the 1968 Olympics, it bears mentioning that he was visibly displaying a piece of Puma footwear on the medal stand in Mexico City, not on his foot...

Ultimately it is not about sport for sport's sake.  It is business.  Sport is just a handy marketing delivery device.

And perhaps it is time that we accept the fact that athletes are indeed human, that their physical prowess does not magically endow them with the type of character that we sometimes automatically bestow upon them, and that it is certainly likely that just like everyone else - they sometimes cheat.

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