Arenas May Need a Mentor to Bounce Back from a Litany of Missteps
The news that Gilbert Arenas has reached a plea agreement related to felony gun possession in the District of Columbia comes as little surprise. Since news first broke that guns were involved in a locker room confrontation between Arenas and teammate Javaris Crittendon, legal consequences have been all but a foregone conclusion. Of course, there’s been a hefty reputational price to pay as well – and thus far, Agent Zero has done little to stop the bleeding.
From the moment we heard that he may have brought unloaded guns to work, Arenas has compounded his reputational challenges with mistakes that stoked the media firestorm, transformed potential allies into adversaries, and drained nearly every drop of goodwill amassed over a career spent dazzling fans on the court and contributing to his local community.
Arenas first tried to downplay the incident, saying that he wanted the guns out of his house with the arrival of a new baby, then saying that it was all a bad joke gone terribly wrong. A series of lighthearted tweets and media run-ins that culminated in a questionable pregame display on January 5 cemented the perception among key audiences that he didn’t take the matter as seriously as did his team, his league, or his city’s police department.
On January 6, NBA Commissioner David Stern suspended Arenas indefinitely. Yesterday, Arenas was arrested and charged. No one is questioning the wisdom or necessity of either move.
That being said, Arenas’ future as an NBA superstar still remains largely within his control. As I said on WTOP last night, today’s plea could mark a turning point. With a sincere demonstration of remorse coupled with a continuation of the community activism he is known for, Arenas could lay the foundation for a comeback somewhere else. The fact that Michael Vick just completed his first season with the Philadelphia Eagles after a lengthy prison term provides every indication that Arenas could do the same.
In fact, there’s one page from the Michael Vick playbook that could prove particularly useful to Arenas in the days ahead. Just as Vick found a mentor in Tony Dungy to help “coach” him back into the public’s good graces (good enough, at least, for a return to the NFL), Arenas needs a respected old hand – likely a retired NBA star – to not only teach him a thing or two about how to live up to what is expected of him, but also lend credibility to his rehabilitation efforts. That kind of third-party validation has been tough to come by for Arenas thus far, but if he apologizes and commits to righting past wrongs, he may find he has allies he never knew he had.
Gilbert Arenas is going to have to do his time (possibly in jail, and definitely out of the NBA for a while), but once he’s paid his debt, he has an even chance of returning to the NBA, just as Vick came back to the NFL. It’s up to him to make the right moves.
Gene Grabowski is Senior Vice President of Crisis and Litigation at Levick Strategic Communications, the nation’s top crisis communications firm, and a contributing author to Bulletproof Blog. Connect with him @crisisguru.