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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