A Tripped Up Image: Grayson Allen and His Image Repair Tactics

By Jennifer Janicki and Grace Miller

ABSTRACT

This paper explores Duke basketball player Grayson Allen’s attempts to repair his image after he allegedly tripped several opposing players in the 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 seasons. After the incidents, Allen went from being praised for his performance in the 2015 NCAA championship game to being one of the most disliked players in college basketball. This study analyzes his efforts to rebuild his reputation and win back fans through Benoit’s strategies of bolstering, mortification, corrective action, defeasibility and minimization. Overall, his tactics were found to be marginally effective because though his first attempt was successful, he lost the progress he had made by repeating the same offense and therefore losing credibility for his second attempt.

INTRODUCTION

  • Grayson Allen was a top-40 recruit, 2013 McDonald’s All-American and the 2013 McDonald’s All-American Slam Dunk Contest winner
  • Led the Duke University basketball team to win the 2015 NCAA National Championship
  • On Feb. 8, 2016, in a game against Louisville University, Allen allegedly tripped Ray Spalding
  • On Feb. 26, Allen tripped Xavier Rathan-Mayes of Florida State University
  • The media covered the story extensively and Allen became a heavily disliked player in college basketball
  • He used several methods to repair his image and attempted to move forward from the incidents
  • In a game against Elon University on Dec. 21, Allen tripped Steven Santa Ana
  • Our literature review includes previous studies on the image repair tactics of Lance Armstrong, Michael Phelps, Serena Williams, Terrell Owens, Michael Vick, Johnny Manziel, Reggie Bush, Brett Favre and Tom Brady

  • This study is valuable because Allen is attempting to repair his image for a crisis directly related to his sport and because of his use of social media in his repair strategy

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LITERATURE REVIEW 

  • In today’s culture, athletes are placed on a pedestal for their performance, but one misstep can cause major damage to their reputation
  • In order to better understand image repair theory in the context of sports, we analyzed several studies of athletes’ image repair tactics following a crisis
  • We included a review of Benoit’s theory, as well as studies of Lance Armstrong, Michael Phelps, Serena Williams, Terrell Owens, Michael Vick, Johnny Manziel, Reggie Bush, Brett Favre and Tom Brady
  • We found that few studies discuss cases of crises directly related to an athlete’s sport or cases of several repetitions of the exact same offense

Research Questions:

  • How did the media’s portrayal of Grayson Allen change over the course of this study?
  • Did this portrayal impact the public’s opinion of Allen?
  • How did Allen use social media to repair his image after the crises?
  • What tactics did Allen use to repair his image?

METHODOLOGY

  • RQ1: Analyzed articles from ESPN and CBS Sports before, during and after the three tripping incidents and detailed shifts in rhetoric toward Allen
  • RQ2: Tweets by general users were evaluated for tone and emotional response to trippings
  • RQ3: 286 tweets and 54 Instagram posts were assessed for image repair tactics and then categorized respectively
  • RQ4: Two videos of Allen were included, transcribed and analyzed for use of image repair strategies

FINDINGS AND DISCUSSION

Media Coverage:

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Public Response:

  • After each of Allen’s tripping incidents, there was a significant public response to the overwhelmingly negative media coverage and with incident, the public’s response only became more and more heated
  • After the first two incidents, Twitter users blasted Allen and called him a “dirty” player, “cheap” and a “thug” (O’Neil, 2016)

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  • After Allen issued an apology video, some fans expressed appreciation for his humble, emotional response. However, many only used it to fuel their hatred for Allen even more
  • After his third tripping incident, Allen was suspended indefinitely, but the suspension was lifted after only one game. Users joked about his short suspension and expressed disbelief that he was still being allowed to play after what he had done

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  • The public’s response was overwhelmingly negative toward the three incidents, the minimal punishment and Allen himself
  • Although some acknowledged his basketball talent and NBA potential, many expressed that these incidents would always overshadow his talent on the court

Social Media:

  • Allen’s two main social media platforms were Twitter and Instagram
  • After analyzing 293 tweets and 54 Instagram posts, we concluded his primary image repair tactic via social media was bolstering
  • There were three common themes throughout the posts that Allen used to bolster his image: religious commitment, team spirit and community outreach

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Twitter

  • He has 161,000 followers, mostly basketball fans, other athletes, and Duke students and alumni. Allen uses Twitter to connect with fans, retweeting their posts and answering their questions
  • During the time frame analyzed in this study, he began tweeting Bible verses, emphasizing to his followers his religious devotion and virtuous character

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  • Allen also used Twitter to show support for Duke basketball and rally fans to support the team
  • Emphasizing team spirit showed fans that Allen is not the selfish player many believed him to be because of the tripping incidents and showed his competitive nature

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  • Allen tweeted his appreciation for his fans and responded to their mentions of his name. He also showed his character through service projects and giving back to the community
  • These posts showed that Allen cares about more than just basketball, building up his image in the eyes of the public

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Instagram

  • Allen’s Instagram focuses on Duke basketball and his teammates. He currently has 304,000 followers
  • During the time period analyzed in this study, Allen posted 54 photos on Instagram
  • The majority of the posts were photos of the team or Allen playing basketball, emphasizing his team spirit and devotion to Duke

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  • He also bolstered his image through community and fan outreach, as well as religious commitment

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Image Repair

  • Allen has made two attempts to repair his image after three reputation-damaging tripping incidents. The first use of image repair occurred after two trips in February 2016 and the second after the third trip in December 2016. He used bolstering, mortification and corrective action in both attempts but included defeasibility and minimization tactics only in his first and second attempts respectively.
    • Bolstering was done on his Twitter and Instagram pages
    • Mortification, corrective action and defeasibility tactics occurred through two videos published by traditional media outlets
    • Allen attempted minimization by wearing a “don’t trip” hat

Apology videos:

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Repair Strategies

STRENGTHS AND EFFECTIVENESS

  • Allen’s first attempt at image repair was effective
  • Mortification showed he was taking responsibility for his actions and admitting he made a mistake
  • Corrective action led everyone to believe he had matured and would be moving forward past the incidents
  • Defeasibility statements gave a reasonable explanation for why his behavior was so aggressive and unethical
  • His second attempt at image repair was significantly less effective – by repeating the same offense he had already tried to move past, he essentially lost all progress
  • Mortification was the most successful strategy, because although he tripped someone again, people could see just how upset and apologetic Allen felt
  • His promise of further corrective action, however, accomplished virtually nothing because he broke trust

WEAKNESSES AND RECOMMENDATIONS

  • Grayson Allen’s main weakness in repairing his image was simply his repeated offenses
    • Similar to Johnny Manziel’s case, Allen’s repeated incidents lessened the effectiveness of his mortification attempts
  • One aspect missing from Allen’s image repair approach was a direct address of the issue on social media
  • Speaking to his followers and fans directly on Twitter or Instagram could have helped repair his image and show fans that he cared about their feelings
  • Now, the most important things he can do to repair his image are play clean basketball and have a strong senior season
  • Allen should continue to address the tripping incidents as mistakes

CONCLUSION

Implications:

  • The main finding of this study is evidence of how difficult it is to repair one’s image after
    repeating the same mistake, especially after making promises of improved behavior
  • Mortification is the most effective strategy for repairing one’s image following a crisis
  • Allen’s use of social media as a platform for image repair has significant implications for how online sites will impact a public figure’s ability to control the rhetoric about his or her scandal
  • Allen continually pushed out positive content, bolstering his character and drawing attention away from his mistakes

Limitations:

  • Because Allen is still in the process of repairing his image, this study does not provide a complete analysis of his image repair tactics
  • This study was unable to include all media coverage. We decided to focus on ESPN and CBS Sports because they are reputable sources and published the largest amount of articles about Allen
  • Our analysis of Allen’s social media tactics was limited to Twitter and Instagram because he does not have a public Facebook account

Suggestions:

  • A focus on if the subject of a crisis should address their scandal directly on social media
  • A study contrasting public response to college athletes versus professional athletes could provide interesting insights into how well an individual’s image repair tactics will be received

Summary:

  • Because athletes are idolized by the public for their talents and success, their lives are often in the spotlight and image repair tactics are crucial after a crisis
  • Grayson Allen’s attempts to repair his image after tripping several opposing players received mixed results, mainly due to his repetition of the same mistake
  • He presents an interesting study of a college athlete’s attempt to improve his reputation after an on-court crisis directly related to his sport
  • Through bolstering, mortification, corrective action, defeasibility and minimization, Allen made some progress, but only time will tell if his efforts were effective

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Initial Findings: Grayson Allen’s Image Repair Strategies

Creative Handout

by Jennifer Janicki

For our research paper, we have been analyzing Duke basketball player, Grayson Allen, as he attempts to repair his image following three intentional trippings of opposing players. His story has been covered extensively by sports media, mainly ESPN and CBS Sports. The coverage has been overwhelmingly negative, as has the general public’s response the incidents. Most discussion of Allen’s indiscretions has occurred on Twitter, with users posting their thoughts on the situation, mostly in a negative way to express their dissatisfaction with the punishment handed down to Allen or his actions in general.

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To combat his negative public perception, Allen gave an apology during a post-game interview in the Duke locker room after the third trip. He employed the mortification strategy by apologizing for his actions and claiming responsibility. He apologized to the player he tripped, the officials calling the game and his teammates. The apology was captured on video and was very helpful in influencing public perception. Since viewers could clearly see he was upset, they felt sympathy for him and it gave his statements credibility and sincerity.

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Additionally, Allen has been employing the bolstering strategy through his social media. In our research, we reviewed 286 Twitter posts and 54 Instagram posts. His posts could be divided into three main focuses: religious commitment, charitable outreach and team loyalty. He uses his sites to show the positive sides of his character and to humanize himself.

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Allen doesn’t interact with other users often (except teammates), but has retweeted posts that are positively related to himself and Duke basketball or support a cause. By doing this, he reinforces the idea that people have forgiven him and moved past his mistakes.

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As recently as this week, Allen attempted to minimize the situation by making fun of his mistakes by wearing a hat that read “don’t trip.” While this can be an effective tactic, it can also be seen as condescending and may reverse some of the progress he made through mortification.

 

 

Initial Thoughts on Grayson Allen

By Jennifer Janicki

I’m excited to start working on this research paper. In addition to being interested in learning more about image repair and effective crisis communications, I have a personal connection to the subject we will be writing about. Both my sister and my dad graduated from Duke University, so I have grown up watching the Blue Devils play basketball.

As such, I have seen Grayson Allen, our focus for the paper, make mistakes and work to repair them in real time. Allen became a favorite player of my family when he unexpectedly led to Duke basketball team to win the NCAA National Championship in 2015. The next year he was chosen as the preseason ACC Player of the Year by the media and was expected to be a lead scorer on the team.
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But then, in two different games in February 2016, Allen allegedly tripped an opposing player. His story is particularly interesting because he successfully employed image repair tactics and seemed to be moving past his indiscretions, when he tripped another player in December of the same year. Throughout our paper, we will be able to explore if an athlete can successfully repair their image twice, or if it is damaged beyond repair by making the same mistake after promising to change.

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The media ripped Allen and Duke apart, especially after the trip in December. He is “booed” by opponents every time he touches the ball. We believe it will be very difficult for him to recover from this and anticipate we will suggest him using most of Benoit’s strategies.

His social media portrays him as a dedicated athlete and faithful Christian. His twitter and Instagram are full of biblical quotes and expressions of team spirit. Currently, he has not addressed the scandal on his social media. Instead, he seems to be subtly bolstering his image and reinforcing positivity surrounding his character. Only time will tell if he can restore his reputation.

 

 

Measuring Success

By Jennifer Janicki

As we near our final project deadline, it’s important to establish guidelines for evaluating the performance of our suggestions. Although we won’t be performing the evaluation ourselves, we want to ensure we give a complete package to our client, Caritas of Waco, and make it easy for them to measure the success of the campaign.

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Video by Bloomberg

To measure the increase in awareness for Hidden Treasures, Caritas can calculate how many customers the Back to School Bash brought in, how many stories about Caritas circulated the news after implementing the campaign and how much communication to supporters increased.

Both Hidden Treasures locations average about 68 customers per day, so a successful event would bring in about 200 people to the store. Since the end goal is awareness, the amount of people at the event is more important than sales volume. Similarly, an increase of 5 percent in media presence and 15 percent in supporter communication would also indicate this first goal of community awareness has been accomplished.

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Photo by Andrew Bryngelson

Next, to see if the customer base has been expanded, Caritas could review the results from a perception survey. If the perception has positively improved by five percent, we would have met one of our objectives. Measuring if store traffic has increased by 20 people per week and if print advertising has increased by five percent, would also show if we successfully expanded Caritas’ customer base.

Finally, to show improvement on social media, Hidden Treasures Facebook page likes and engagement should increase by 10 percent, and each post should feature an appealing photo or graphic.

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Photo of Hidden Treasures Facebook Page

Overall, an assessment of each of these goals will help Caritas determine if our campaign helped further their mission. Though we attempted to make strategic, attainable suggestions, only time will tell if our plan will have an impact on Caritas, and consequently the Waco community.

Planning Ahead: Establishing Goals & Objectives

By Jennifer Janicki

I’m excited by the progress we’ve made on our campaign so far. Caritas of Waco does such important work in the community and we are eager to contribute to the organization by using our public relations skills. We’ve completed a SWOT analysis, wrote vision and mission statements, and established our key publics.

To help us stay organized and on track with our campaign, we created goals and objectives for the project. First, we defined what we wanted to accomplish into three goals. Our team included goals aimed to manage reputation, relationships and tasks.

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Video by Study.com

Keeping them broad, we decided to work toward increasing awareness for Hidden Treasures by Caritas, expanding the customer base for the stores and improving social media use. Next, we set measurable objectives to reach our goals in a timely manner.

We tried to use numbers or percentages and make everything quantifiable. Some examples include, increase media coverage of the stores by five percent, increase Facebook page likes by 10 percent and increase advertising presence by five percent.

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Photo by Waco Chamber of Commerce

Then, we laid out some tactics to achieve our objectives. These were very specific and focused like, plan and execute a new annual event, promote higher-end merchandise, and consolidate the two Facebook pages into one.

By planning and prioritizing what we hope to accomplish, we will head into the next steps of the project informed and prepared. We now have an idea of what’s to be done and how that will hopefully, positively affect Caritas.

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Photo by Jennifer Janicki

As we develop our new event, it will be important to keep these goals at the forefront of our thinking and make sure each decision relates back to our original purpose for the campaign.

We learned in class how goals are important for every organization. While they vary significantly for each, all are essential for progress and eventual success.

Some Initial Thoughts

This semester, I will be working with a team of classmates to develop a PR campaign for Caritas of Waco. Caritas provides urgent support to people in need in the community through an emergency assistance food pantry, case management program, SNAP benefits assistance program and more.

Our team will be focusing on creating a new event to bring awareness and attention to the recently rebranded thrift stores, Hidden Treasures by Caritas. While the rebranding is a positive change long-term, it could cause some confusion for past customers and prove to be a challenge for the event.

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Photo by Ann Owen

Some other weaknesses we identified for Caritas in our SWOT analysis, that could also impact the success of a new event, include an outdated website, logistical challenges (Caritas’ services are spread across 3 locations) and almost too much differentiation of services which could mean current clients are unaware of the retail store operations.

But, Caritas has been serving the community for almost 50 years and has many strengths as well: name recognition in the Waco community, an extensive fundraising network, services that meet the needs of the clients and help them toward self-sufficiency, an experienced and involved Board of Directors, a strong social media presence and lasting partnerships with compatible agencies in the area.

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Video by KWKT Fox 44 and Greg May Honda

All these strengths will greatly benefit our team in the planning process. We can count on the fundraising network, strong social media presence and name recognition to aid in the promotion of the event.

Additionally, Caritas’ location will greatly impact the success of our proposed event. Being located next to a university and several religious organizations positions Caritas to have a large pool of potential event attendees or volunteers. With a poverty rate of close to 30 percent in Waco, we are guaranteed to have a large population interested in an event centered around significantly discounted apparel and goods.

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Photo by Waco Chamber of Commerce

Our main focuses moving forward will include event logistics and creating a marketing plan. We want to ensure we present Ann Owen and the rest of the Caritas team an event that is feasible, but also of interest to the community. With suggested fliers and social media posts, we can effectively show our client how a new event could be introduced to Caritas.