Making Athletes More Marketable: National Signing Day

National Signing Day Families across the country are on pins and needles today waiting for the results of National Signing Day. It can bring about a bevy of anxiety for athletes as they take a look back at their exposure with the media and their fans. Unfortunately today, it is almost impossible for a top notch athlete to go unnoticed in the media. The slightest hiccup in their life can be misconstrued and create a public persona that may not be as favorable as they would have liked. It is more important now than ever for popular athletes to remain a squeaky clean image at all times. Last week’s Super Bowl showed us just how much the public craves a marketable athlete. In countless interviews, Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch has expressed his disdain for speaking with the media. A man of very few words, Lynch goes into “Beast Mode” on the field, but prefers to stay away from the lights of the cameras. This year’s Super Bowl Media Day was a bit comical as Lynch was filmed repeatedly saying “I’m just here so I don’t get fined”. Lynch’s loophole to mandatory interviews provided comic relief for some of his fans, but for others drew adversarial looks. For those who have followed Lynch in the media, it is clear that his only desire is to get out there on the field and do what he loves. There are other well-known athletes that perhaps should have taken a page from Lynch’s book and refrained from making public comments as much. Athletes Michael Sam and Johnny Manziel have been publicly scrutinized for being outspoken in their personal lives and allowing the media and other onlookers to display facets of their personality that have nothing to do with the game of football. While some athletes have benefited from excessive media exposure, for someone like Michael Sam it has actually been the Achilles heel of his career. Sam argues that his public persona cost him his career, as he allowed cameras to follow him and document his life as an openly gay football player. Whether that’s true or not is still up for debate, as the public never did get a firm grip on just how much Sam would flourish on the field in his professional career. But what we do know is that had Sam not embraced opportunities to speak about his personal life that his short lived career would be debated in an entirely different bubble than the one the media allowed him to create. The road to being publicly embraced as an athlete begins very early on in an athlete’s career. It is not uncommon for people to dig into someone’s history at the slightest sign of discomfort. The very first thing the media looked for in the Ray Rice case was the background and behavioral patterns of Rice and his now wife. The two were publicly scrutinized, analyzed, and investigated with theories on their previous behavioral patterns. People want to be able to put the puzzle pieces together and figure out the core of the person they are watching on television. Just seeing their face and listening to a recap of their performance is no longer enough. People want an inside view of everything from breakfast preferences to family history in order to enjoy seeing you carry a ball. With social media networks displaying every breath we take, college athletes now have to live under the radar much more than ever. Appearances at certain events or association with certain people can make or break their careers before they even get to the draft. High School athletes must be prepared to ensure that their image is untainted from the day they step foot on a college campus. As a college athlete, trouble with the law can lead to academic and athletic suspensions, and permanent record damage that will hurt their chances at a career in professional sports. Teams across the country are increasing their affiliation with community related events and academic endeavors that will increase the appeal for their athletes in the future. Student athletes are encouraged today to build diverse resumes that will solidify a positive personal image, and ultimately lead to a longer and more successful career. Guidance from coaches, athletic support staff, and other mentors can ensure that an athlete has a firm grip on a positive future in sports.