Brand New Game

David Neiman on the Athlete Brand

October 31, 2014

Too Soon: How Nike’s “Together” Ad Is Working Against LeBron James

In case you haven’t heard — and if you follow the NBA, there’s no possible way you haven’t — LeBron James officially returned to Cleveland yesterday, playing his first regular season game at home for the Cavaliers. To mark the occasion, Nike released a new ad called, “Together.”

It’s a superb ad, like virtually everything created by Nike’s ad agency, Wieden+Kennedy.

At the same time, “Together” — like many of the most watched ads that Nike has generated for James over the course of his career — is also working against him.

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September 17, 2014

The Man Who Can End the Uproar Over Adrian Peterson

(This post was written on the night of Sept. 16, 2014., just hours before the Minnesota Vikings decided to deactivate Adrian Peterson until his legal issues have been settled. Because of that, I published the post, but never distributed it. Still, the sentiments I expressed still hold true, particularly in retrospect. Undoubtedly, they’ll hold true for someone else in the future, too.)

Five days ago — what seems like an eternity in the wake of a flood of ire and opinion on every kind of media — the Minnesota Vikings deactivated All-Pro running back Adrian Peterson after he was indicted for abusing his four year-old son with a switch.

By doing so, they seemed to be saying, “Adrian Peterson’s behavior is unacceptable and at odds with the moral standards supported by the Minnesota Vikings. For that reason, he will not be playing for our team.”

Then, Monday, the Vikings said that Peterson would be playing in this coming Sunday’s game against the New Orleans Saints.

What the team’s message is now is open to wide interpretation, much of it unflattering, but the action had consequences.

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June 16, 2014

In Memory of Tony Gwynn

Back in April of 2003, I had the pleasure of spending a day with Tony Gwynn. Gwynn died of cancer today, much too soon, at age 54.

The feature I wrote on him for the Washington Post, which follows below, was meant to tell the story of his transition from player to head coach at San Diego State University. It wound up being one of my favorite pieces. His son, Tony Gwynn Jr., happened to be on the SDSU team at the time.

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February 11, 2014

In the End, It’s Crabtree’s Image That Suffered

Now that some time has passed and we’ve seen the other side of Richard Sherman, it’s safe to say that his open mic performance of “Michael Crabtree, Mediocre Receiver” isn’t going to cost him much, if anything, long-term.

Sherman seems like a genuinely good, intelligent person with a moving backstory and a promising future. (Full disclosure: Like Sherman, I also went to Stanford, and his teammate, Earl Thomas, is one of my clients.) It’s unlikely that he’ll ever verbally pile-drive anyone else the way he did Michael Crabtree, and whatever future variations of his on-field persona show up, they’ll be mitigated by the person that everyone now knows is behind them.

The irony is that Michael Crabtree, not Sherman, is the one who stands to lose the most from this incident.

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News Cycle
February 5, 2014

Sports Agents: A Digital Branding Strategy Can Save Your Clients’ Reputations

Sport agents, managers and PR professionals: If you knew you could take surefire steps to save a client’s reputation, would you take them, or would you sit idly by, and let your client’s reputation be damaged or destroyed?

Of course, you’d choose the former option. But every single day, the overwhelming majority of athletes and their representatives choose the latter. They fail to implement a proactive branding strategy, leave themselves at the mercy of traditional and social media, and quite literally — that is, in millions of dollars lost — pay the price for it.

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January 31, 2014

Why Does Image-Building Stop After the Drafts?

Every year, prior to the NBA and NFL drafts, agents do literally everything they can to sell their new clients to the teams they might play for. It is an expensive, intensive process, and with good reason: literally millions of dollars are on the line. Elite trainers are hired to get each athlete into the best shape of his life in preparation for draft combines and workouts. Media experts are hired to help would-be professional athletes hone their interview skills. Public relations professionals are consulted about how to spin the missteps of athletes’ pasts.

Then the players are drafted, and this process stops.

All of the care that went into preparing the image of each client — how he performed physically, how he conducted himself personally, the story he and his team deliberately and meticulously presented — all of that is abandoned.

How does that make any sense at all?

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July 24, 2013

Why Ryan Braun Is Hated, and What Athletes Can Learn From It

Ryan Braun didn’t kill anyone. He didn’t commit a crime in a legal sense. But he and his onerous PED saga have elicited some of the rawest, most vitriolic reactions from players, media and fans since Lance Armstrong.

Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports called him “a cockroach.” Seattle outfielder Jason Bay said that “it just kills all the credibility of anybody.” Skip Schumaker, an outfielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers, felt Braun “should be suspended, lifetime ban.” And Tyler Kepner of the New York Times summed up the sentiments of many: “There are liars and frauds and scoundrels, and then there are people like Ryan Braun, who somehow seem worse.”

What is it about Braun that engenders these sorts of reactions, and more importantly, what can athletes learn and apply from this entire episode?

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July 18, 2013

Kobe Bryant, Expectations and the Lessons of Derrick Rose

Expectations matter, and when you set the wrong expectations for yourself, you set yourself — and others — up for disappointment and worse.

On Thursday, Los Angeles Lakers vice president Jim Buss announced that Kobe Bryant, who is out with a ruptured Achilles, is not only ahead of his rehab schedule, but would likely be back to start the year.

“I would bet a lot of money that this guy comes back probably in preseason,” Buss told “He’s real sharp in taking care of himself and he’s not going to rush anything just to get back and prove a point. He’s going to come back when he’s right. He’s a machine. He’s inhuman. I see him coming back at the beginning of this season. I can’t believe how much he’s progressed so far.”

My question is this: Even if you have every reason for optimism, why make this kind of declaration?

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July 10, 2013

What Can Be Learned From the Kaepernick Hat-Flap

Forget for a minute how you might feel about it personally: Why was Colin Kaepernick wearing a Miami Dolphins snapback polarizing? And were his subsequent Instagram posts suitable responses?

It’s understandable why wearing the hat of another NFL team would rub some the wrong way. To offended fans — especially among the San Francisco faithful — he’s wearing the hat of a potential competitor. He’s a quarterback, ostensibly one of the leaders of the 49ers. ProFootballTalk managed to find a quote from Kaepernick’s coach, Jim Harbaugh, that was pulled from his playing days. In it, Harbaugh — a Chargers player at the time — slammed a teammate who showed up at practice wearing (ironically) 49ers gear.

At the same time, it’s a hat. Kaepernick was at a party. Maybe he’s a longtime Dolphins fan. Maybe he wanted to keep the sun out of his eyes. Maybe he just liked the look of the hat. Does it matter?

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Steven Jackson
March 17, 2013

Best Wishes: Steven Jackson, St. Louis Part Ways

In every team sport, for all but a handful of athletes, there comes a time when a veteran star and the franchise he plays for part ways.

A lot of the time, when a split happens, it isn’t pretty. Even one of the most respected athletes in America, Peyton Manning, found himself exchanging shots with Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay when it was clear their time together was done.

That’s what makes Steven Jackson’s departure from the St. Louis Rams worth noting.

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