Former New York Yankee and mythical sports figure Babe Ruth leveraged the media to create perhaps the most iconic personal brand in the history of baseball. Ruth is the definition of a sports legend, a reputation that was inflated at times and protected during others thanks to his strong relationship with the media. According to author Jean Shepherd in the HBO Original documentary Babe Ruth, the media made Ruth into the stuff of folklore, saying, “Every reporter that covered Ruth had the illusion that he was a great friend of Ruth, so the minute he started writing about Ruth, he started writing about what he considered his friend.” That close bond and assumed kinship kept the tabloids at bay when Ruth got into trouble off the field while garnering him front-page headlines when he found success on it.
“The media really built Babe Ruth.” —Jean Shepherd, author
Compare that to former Pittsburgh Pirate and San Francisco Giant great Barry Bonds who had more home runs, hits, base on balls, and total bases than Ruth yet was consistently persecuted by the media thanks in part to his misgivings with the reporting community. According to Bonds his toxic relationship with the media cost him—literally: “I kick myself now, because I’m getting great press [since being more cooperative], and I could have had a trillion more endorsements.” He added, “It’s on me. I’m to blame for the way I was portrayed.”
Journalists and bloggers are used to athletes shutting them down and tuning them out, but the only people hurt in a feud between athletes and the media are the athletes themselves. Be different, stand out, and make friends amongst one of the most influential communities in sports and watch as your brand becomes the beneficiary of your competition’s lack of cooperation.
The only people hurt in a feud between athletes and the media are the athletes.