Rocket’s Rep

My old friend and former Burson-Marsteller colleague Gene Grabowski took the spotlight yesterday in a New York Daily News profile regarding his latest high-profile client Roger Clemens.

The piece, which appeared on the sports pages of the NYC tab, cited Gene’s current PR specialty — sports stars behaving badly:

“Grabowski is no stranger to ESPN; he has appeared on its radio network in recent months to comment on Michael Phelps’ bong picture and Alex Rodriguez’s steroid use.”

Since when does the retention of a PR man merit media interest beyond the trades? Maybe Grabowski ascension beyond the traditional behind-the-scenes advisory role precipitated the coverage?

The Levick crisis counselor is now a cog in the story. ESPN Radio’s top-rated “Mike & Mike Show” not only interviewed Clemens, but they handed the mike to the Rocket’s PR man – Grabowski. Both segments were pegged to the publication of the book, “American Icon: The Fall of Roger Clemens and the Rise of Steroids in America’s Pastime.” The authors: four Daily News reporters.

Given Mr. Clemens’ much-criticized star-turn on “60 Minutes,” in which he vehemently denied using steroids, perhaps adding his PR man to the media mix helped amplify the message. Also, name an athlete whose talents for turning a phrase equals that for physically scoring (no double entendre intended).

Nonetheless, I find it unusual for a reporter to talk with a newsmaker’s PR rep when the newsmaker himself avails himself for an interview. I guess ESPN’s top talkers deemed this affable PR man enough of an insider, in spite of his background as the communications chief for a food industry association.

I remain a stalwart believer in clients remaining front and center, as long as they have the skills to go toe-to-toe with their journalistic inquisitors. Clemens does a decent job:

“I know what your polls say, [but] I’ve been getting great responses everywhere I’ve gone in the cities I’ve traveled to. All I can do is be me and give them the message I just told you about that steroids are bad for these kids. You don’t want to have anything to do with them the way they tear your body down,” he said. “But I can’t defend a negative. When you’ve got somebody that’s out there that is really just crawling up your back to make a buck — which is what this is — other than speaking out, what else can you do?”

Or as Joe Torre quipped on a different ESPN radio program:

“There’s a side of Roger that makes you want to hug him,” Torre added. “He’s been that guy that everyone’s paid attention to and nobody’s ever questioned, so it may be a point in time where that has to sort of run out the hourglass.”

So what about reputation redemption for a famous 23-year-old life-long sequestered swimmer who’s learned about life the hard way? There’s a glimmer of hope, with an assist from his coach…not his PR rep:

“The trade-off is he [Michael Phelps] missed some experiences that other people had,” Bowman said. “I guess the question is, what do we do after that? And I think that’s what he’s working on now, expanding his horizons beyond swimming.”

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