Biggest PR implosion? LeBron, Favre or Cutler?

The past six months have given us three of the biggest implosions by professional athletes in recent memory.  With this being movie award season and all here in L.A., we at Sports Climax thought it would be nice to give out our own award, of sorts.  Excellence in ruining your image MUST be rewarded!

In the category of “Best PR Implosion By An Athlete,” the nominees are:

  • LeBron James, “The Decision”
  • Brett Favre: “The Indecsion III” and “Sexting.”
  • Jay Cutler: “Knee-Gate”

All three are deserving nominees and here’s a brief synopsis of how they all made it to the red carpet.

James was the most sought-after free agent in NBA history last July when his contract with his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers expired.  Where would he go?  Everyone thought he’d end up in media capital of the world, New York.  Other suitors emerged – the Bulls, Heat, Clippers (OK, maybe not), Nets and Cavs.  A “tour” of sorts ensued.  As if that weren’t enough, his “team” decided to green-light an ESPN special to announce which team he would be signing with, called “The Decision,” hosted by the parasitic Jim Gray – who was even paid for his services by Team LeBron.  James chose the Heat, the “show” was a PR disaster, and public opinion turned south.

After coming so close to taking his Minnesota Vikings to a Super Bowl, Favre did his usual off-season retire/un-retire dance.  He strung along the Vikings some more, caused then-head coach Brad Childress to come visit him, and then finally returned to the team with just a few weeks left in training camp.  Once the season started and things weren’t going Favre’s way, he started to publicly throw Childress under the proverbial bus (no, not Jerome Bettis).  Then, came the news that Favre once “sexted” a picture of his, um… to former Jets “in-house sideline reporter Jenn Sterger.  Childress later got fired, Favre got hurt yet again, and then two former massage therapists hired by the Jets accused him of sexual harassment.  By the end of the season, people just wanted Favre to retire.  For real, this time.

Finally, Cutler – a notoriously surly and non well-liked quarterback in both Denver and now Chicago – had his sudden plunge in public opinion as a result of last month’s NFC Championship Game.  During a loss to the Green Bay Packers, Cutler suffered a knee injury and only played one series in the third quarter.  This wouldn’t normally have been a big deal, except for the fact that he gave the appearance of not being seriously hurt, tried to ride an exercise bike on the sidelines and later stood on the sideline for the rest of the game.  The media quickly came down on him (including various current and former NFL players via Twitter).  After an MRI the next day revealed that Cutler did indeed have a tear of his MCL.  But Cutler quickly eliminated any sense of public sympathy last week, when he was spotted strolling through Beverly Hills with his reality TV “star” girlfriend, Kristin Cavallari.

This one’s tough to predict, sports fans.  The envelope, please.  (Insert drum roll).  And the winner is…LeBron James!  What a close vote – he just edged out Favre in the voting.

While Cutler clearly has zero grasp on his image, in his defense, it was revealed on Thursday that he did receive a painkiller shot during halftime, so at least he gave it the old college try.  As for Favre, we pretty much expect his annual diva act, and the sexual-related allegations should really surprise no one.  Let’s just say that Favre’s not the sharpest tool in the shed.

But James actually had a good, positive public image before “The Decision,” and he wiped it all away with that one hour train-wreck on ESPN.

Had he simply held a press conference to announce that he was leaving for Miami, people would have gotten over their initial anger (well, maybe not in Cleveland).  No one begrudges an athlete leaving for more money in the 21st Century.  But his WWE-style orchestrated charade simply rubbed people the wrong way.  That, as well as the mere fact that Gray asked such tough questions as, “Where is the powder?” and “Are you still a nail biter?”  Nothing like insulting people’s intelligence, LeBron.  And kudos for increasing the Lakers’ and Celtics’ fan bases overnight.

Congratulations to the winner and the nominees, and we look forward to seeing you back here next year.  Yes, there WILL be plenty of athletes to choose from in 2011, I’m sure.

Used with permission of the author.

Chris Lardieri runs the “West Coast View” column for Sports Climax. A veteran to the keyboard, Chris covered the Los Angeles Dodgers for and has written about Major League Baseball for Inside Edge, a scouting company that provides content to ESPN Insider and Yahoo Sports. Follow Chris on Twitter for more sports observations.

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