Within the past 72 hours, two elite athletes seemingly at the top of their game suffered significant setbacks. However, it’s how they responded which has strangely enough, made them victorious.
On Saturday night, brash Irish mixed martial artist (some language NSFW), Conor McGregor, lost his first Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) fight to Nate Diaz. McGregor is the 145lb champion, but stepped up two weight classes to fight a replacement opponent in Diaz for a non-title 170lb match. After predicting a first-round knockout of his opponent, McGregor instead lost in the second round to a submission.
Many rejoiced to see the trash talker finally taste defeat. However, McGregor won the post-fight PR test with not only his humble interview, but also this post on Instagram (some language NSFW). McGregor said he took a risk, it didn’t pay off, but he’ll learn from it and come back stronger. No excuses, no complaints; just what he learned and how he’ll get better.
Then, just this morning (March 8), tennis superstar Maria Sharapova was going to have a major announcement. Her news? She failed a drug test at the Australian Open. A drug she had been using for 10 years had become, as of just 68 days ago, illegal.
Rather than wait for news services to pick up the failed drug test and have pundits weigh in before she said anything, Sharapova did the best thing she could: Got out in front of the news, controlled the message, and positioned herself to be the news source. While she has been put on immediate suspension and has already lost some sponsors, she accepted responsibility and outlined what had happened (she failed to read an email that outlined the drug in question as now illegal).
Media often relish the narrative of a rise and fall of a prominent figure, whether it be a celebrity or an athlete. However, what they, and our culture, love even more, is the rise, fall, and comeback of a celebrity or athlete. After all, we are a land of second chances, just as long as you do it the right way (See pitcher Andy Petite admitting to taking performance enhancing drugs vs. Rafael Palmeiro vehemently denying it, only to be caught using them).
I predict that both McGregor and Sharapova will be great comeback stories. They’re already off to a great start by winning the initial PR battle by accepting three important things:
- Accepted Responsibility: Neither made excuses; they took ownership of their error and were upfront and honest about the respective situations. It shows the public they recognize what happened, do not pass the blame, and own up to the shortfalls.
- Accepted the Punishment: They realize they made mistakes, understood the magnitude of them, and realized the consequences for their actions.
- Accepted the Challenge: McGregor sees how this gives fuel to all of his detractors and makes some of his trash talk now seem silly. Sharapova understands this may mean a two-year ban and lost sponsorship dollars. However, both vowed to learn from these events (McGregor says you either win or you learn), and admitted they will be better professionals for it.
While you or I may never hoist a UFC title belt or a Wimbledon trophy above our heads, if we find ourselves in a situation where things come up short, we can follow in McGregor’s and Sharpova’s footsteps with similar responses to aid the road to recovery.