What to Say When the Worst Happens

Photo by John Sleezer, K.C. Star

Yordano Ventura. Photo by John Sleezer, K.C. Star

Yesterday was a stark reminder that every day is not promised; rather it should be cherished. Kansas City Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura, just 25 years old, who went from high school dropout to millionaire World Series winner, died in a car crash on Sunday, Jan. 22 in his home country of the Dominican Republic.

Shock, disbelief, perhaps denial, but definitely sadness is being felt by anyone that knew him, felt like they knew him, or had any connection to him. A player who many felt his best years were still ahead of him, despite a meteoric rise the past two years. A player who many middle-aged people thought should learn to mature, (although how mature were many of us at 24 and 25 years of age?). A player affectionately nicknamed “Ace” (for the movie character Ace Ventura) whose smile warmed a room and melted any doubt that he was having fun playing the game of baseball.

When something like this happens to your team, to your company, or to your organization, what do you do? When do you it? How do you do it? But the most important question of all is: What do you say when the worst happens?

In a time of reeling emotions, it’s best to focus on just four words in preparing a response: let the heart lead.

That’s what many of Ventura’s teammates did in their reactions (see here and here), and what the Royals organization did in their initial response. They emblazoned their scoreboard (aka Crown Vision) with a tribute image, they offered a candlelight vigil at the stadium last night, and perhaps most importantly, they allowed fans to show their grief, support and emotion however they saw fit by creating makeshift memorial outside Kauffman Stadium.

ventura-tribute

Royals fans create a makeshift memorial for Yordano Ventura outside Kauffman Stadium after learning of his death on Jan. 22, 2017. Photo by John Sleezer.

  • When you let the heart lead, true and genuine words follow. The fondest memories naturally rise and help create a great illustration of who the person truly was.
  • When you let the heart lead, you enable others to feel and share in your emotional connection, helping to create a shared bonding experience.
  • When you let the heart lead, you show your true sympathies, exhibiting a transparent sense of loss and understanding for those that feel the same.
  • When you let the heart lead, perfection is not expected and raw emotions are embraced. More often than not, these are the right emotions and the right words to address the situation, share in what others are feeling, and begin the journey toward healing.

As the days pass and the next baseball season begins, many other words will be written about Ventura. His number 30 should rightfully be adorned on the uniforms of Royals players this year. There is even a petition to retire his number, which would be just the fourth Royals number ever. All that will be determined in due time.

In this and any moment of sudden and tragic loss, whether it be a teammate, coworker, friend or colleague, no amount of preparation can prepare you for exactly how you will feel or react. But letting the heart lead will at least start you in the right direction and place you on the correct path of remembrance and recovery.

 

Note: Former big league infield Andy Marte was also tragically killed in an unrelated car crash in the Dominican Republic yesterday. Thoughts and prayers with the Ventura and Marte families.

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How Paint Made People Lose Their Minds

HOF Pres David Baker_Cantonrep.com Scott Heckel)

Brow of Embarrassment. NFL Hall of Fame President David Baker wipes his forehead prior to an interview. Baker and the Hall of Fame had to cancel their preseason game to due poor field conditions created by using the wrong type of paint. Photo by Cantonrep.com, Scott Heckel)

This is what happens when an exhibition is supposed to be played by athletes making millions of dollars in an organization worth billions of dollars. When the game cannot take place, analysts call for others to lose their jobs, calls of ineptitude abound, and finger pointing runs rampant.

Sunday, Aug. 7 was a busy day in sports which included baseball players Ichiro Suzuki reaching 3,000 hits and A-Rod announcing his retirement,  golfer Jim Furyk hitting a PGA Tour record round of 58, and U.S. swimmer Katie Ledecky smashing her own world record in the Olympics, which looked something like the image below; note: she’s on the far right.

Katie Ledecky_ESPN

She gone! U.S. swimmer Katie Ledecky blows away the field in her Olympic race as she breaks her own world record.

In addition, there was a furor created when the NFL had to cancel its “Hall of Fame” preseason game in Canton, Ohio between the Green Bay Packers and the Indianapolis Colts.

The stadium was brand new, the field was brand new, and unfortunately, so was the paint, which the wrong kind was applied just 12 hours earlier. This proved to be key sticking point, literally. Players and coaches complained that parts of the field either felt like concrete or felt like running in tar. In technical terns, the paint congealed and wouldn’t allow a cleat to penetrate it. As a result, the game was canceled.

Yes, fans paid their money and spent their time to be there. Yes, the game was supposed to be the culmination of celebrating the latest Hall of Fame class of players inducted the night before. Yes, there is no excuse to not have a field ready when the date has been determined a year in advance.

When a crisis like this occurs and an audience needs to be addressed – in this case the millions watching at home and the thousands in attendance – it can be a complicated dance. However, here are three things the NFL Hall of Fame actually did well in announcing the result of their crisis, taking the hit head on*:

  1. Front and Center: Often when things go awry, it’s easy to blame outside factors or even hide your organization’s top leaders. The NFL HOF had their President, David Baker, address the crowd directly and then proceeded with follow-up interviews.
  2. Simple Messaging: Instead of listing a complicated technical explanation of why the field wasn’t ready or how paint couldn’t dry, Baker simply did the following:
    1. Explained to the crowd why the game was being cancelled (poor field conditions created by the paint)
    2. Reinforced key messages (safety is our main priority)
    3. Informed customers how they would be compensated (refund policy)
    4. Outlined what actually would take place that evening (still honor new Hall of Famers, previously scheduled halftime performance would still take place, just earlier).
  3. Rinse and Repeat: In subsequent interviews, he stayed on point – admittedly and rightfully embarrassed – to explain the situation, express regret, and vow to correct the problem in the future.

Even with these three “rights,” there was one awkward matter that still occurred. Those closest to the action were the last to know … it was announced on TV the game was being cancelled nearly a full hour before fans inside of the stadium were told. Oh well, as they say in sports, there’s always next year.

 

*Pun not intended; the NFL has serious concussion issues which is a whole other topic altogether.