You think you have PR problems? Your problems are nothing compared to those of Jeffrey Mezger, CEO of KB Homes, one of the nation’s largest homebuilders. Mezger was caught recently on security camera video calling neighbor Kathy Griffin “a bald dyke” and a "f***ing c*nt."
For good measure Mezger threw in Donald Trump’s name, and in case there was any doubt about his intentions, he went on to say, “Let’s declare war, asshole, ’cause we got a lot to go for. Let’s bring it on, you bitch."
In answer to that tirade, KB Homes (which no doubt realize that women make the majority of decisions about home buying) trimmed Mezger’s bonus by 25 percent and stated flatly that he would be fired if anything like that happened again.
Now THAT’s a PR problem. How would you like to be a part of Kathy Griffin’s comedy routine forever?
But Jeffrey Mezger’s PR problems pale in comparison to the one faced by Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots, who had to officially chastise his “very good friend” Donald Trump in a statement Sunday that read:
"I am deeply disappointed by the tone of the comments made by the President on Friday. I am proud to be associated with so many players who make such tremendous contributions in positively impacting our communities. Their efforts, both on and off the field, help bring people together and make our community stronger. There is no greater unifier in this country than sports, and unfortunately, nothing more divisive than politics. I think our political leaders could learn a lot from the lessons of teamwork and the importance of working together toward a common goal. Our players are intelligent, thoughtful and care deeply about our community and I support their right to peacefully affect social change and raise awareness in a manner that they feel is most impactful."
In addition to calling Trump a very good friend, Kraft has dined with the President and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Mar a Lago, and is one of at least seven NFL owners who contributed $1 million to Trump’s inaugural committee, according to the New York Daily News. He recently gave the President a Super Bowl ring.
What’s a billionaire to do? If Kraft continues to stand with his players who are kneeling during the national anthem, he might as well change the name of the team from the New England Patriots to the New England Protesters, or the New England Sort-of-Patriots. Patriotish?
If, on the other hand, he sides with his very good friend Donald Trump, he will continue to enjoy the benefits of being the President’s friend. Trump keeps score like no president since Nixon, and if Kraft continues to diss him by disagreeing in public, The Donald will turn on him like a hyena forced onto the South Beach Diet.
Here’s the rub: Siding with Trump would alienate Kraft from his high-priced roster, who hang together as a team, living by the same sort of code that binds any other group of mercenaries. It’s a code that every owner and coach knows and respects.
It would also put Kraft at some distance from the league position articulated by Roger Goodell, which is that Trump “demonstrates an unfortunate lack of respect” for the NFL, and the “overwhelming force for good our clubs and players represent in our communities."
In other words, Goodell, with typical sententiousness, is saying that sports are a wholesome influence on American society, and none more wholesome than a $13 billion enterprise like the NFL. The billionaires who make up the NFL owners group are interested in nothing but the welfare of the nation, building giant stadiums, and chasing big rings.
Kraft himself is a sort of team member of the NFL, albeit one with a fractious history vis-à-vis the front office. So how can he extricate his personal brand and his team from this dilemma? By winning another Super Bowl? Through more charitable activities featuring the Brady Bunch? By getting together with his fellow owner/donors and telling Trump to pipe down? The NFL’s turn in the barrel has clearly arrived, and the way Robert Kraft handles this situation is likely to affect the entire NFL enterprise.
Meanwhile, over at NASCAR, the mother lode of Trump’s voter base, things are less ambiguous. Everybody stands. As Richard “The King” Petty put it: “Anybody that don’t stand up for the anthem oughta be out of the country. Period. What got ’em where they’re at? The United States," Petty said, adding that any protester within his organization would be fired.
Trump praised NASCAR in a crack-of-dawn tweet Monday. Between threatening North Korea and berating professional sports, one wonders how he has any time for the kind of deep thinking the presidency requires.
Bill Huey is president of Strategic Communications, a consultancy he established 30 years ago, and the author of The Gookville Murders (Kindle, 2016).