The Problems in the Professional Sport: Injuries, Branding
High impact sports have long had an ugly history with regard to brain injury. This is especially true when considering the disdainful relationship that professional sport leagues have had with the facts of brain trauma as a result of high impact sports. The most prevalent sport in this discussion would be boxing. With many, if not all, fighters at least once experiencing being punch drunk. Punch drunk refers to when a boxer has been beaten in the head so many times that they become disoriented, looking as if they were intoxicated. This repeated brain trauma has been known to lead to more serious issues down the road such as insanity or reflections of other serious diseases such as dementia. Since the 1970s, these potentially fatal side effects to prize fighting have brought to the forefront a serious discussion of the risks of impact sports, especially in the medical community. Medical associations have since vehemently opposed sports that could have a disastrous effect to the brain, and have urged fans to restrain from watching these certain dangerous sports (e.g., boxing, football, etc.). Regulations have been produced in masses since the discoveries of serious brain trauma due to impact sports with some even pushing for complete abolition. From 1920 to 1989 opposition to high impact sports rose exponentially, and it doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon.
For years, the NFL has been inappropriately deceptive and dismissive when regarding the seriousness of the concussion epidemic. The NFL remained firm in their stance even when evidence that the deaths of players such as: Mike Webster, Andre Waters, and Terry Long were a result of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). During this time, they pointed to findings of the Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Committee (MTBI) research that had many false claims that concussions hadn’t increased, they weren’t serious, and didn’t leave lasting impressions. However, this was not necessarily a credible source because the entire committee was funded by the very league (NFL) that would lose money if its sport was tied to CTE. Many sources have tried to discredit the NFL’s claims over the years, starting with the ex-Harvard football player, Chris Nowinski. They found that the former players, stated above, had mild to serious evidence of brain trauma in areas that affected both their memories and other vital thoughts. This led to the University of Michigan conducting their own investigation which found that former football players are nineteen times more likely to develop CTE than someone who had not played football. Their findings were further solidified after more NFL players committed suicide in more recent years, and Hollywood took a swing at the NFL too with documentaries and movies focusing on the issue. Finally, after all of these efforts, the NFL became willing to admit concussions were indeed a serious issue. This progress is huge for the NFL, because the first step to solving a problem is admitting there is one.
Flexible citizenship as the idea of migrating to a new area due to economic advantages while maintaining patriotic ties to an individual’s homeland is a vital concept when discussing flexible marketing in professional sports. One’s ties to their motherland is essential when considering viable marketing opportunities globally and the greatest example of this is former Houston Rocket, Yao Ming. Yao is from China, when he was drafted to the American NBA in 2002, he theoretically could have severed ties and focused solely on his new American lifestyle. However, right from the start of his NBA career he chose to remain loyal to his motherland. On the night of his draft where he was expected to be taken number one overall, Yao decided to show his patronage to China by deciding against traveling to New York like many of his fellow draftees, and staying in Beijing to celebrate with his countrymen. This dedication to his homeland allowed brands to have a flexible strategy when considering marketing for the big man. In America, he was portrayed as a humorous character with the utmost respect and kindness for others and for this he was adored by many NBA fans regardless of their fandom. Back in China however, he was cherished the same if not greater but for drastically different reasons. In Yao’s homeland, loyalty and patriotism are of paramount importance so brands would capitalize on this ideal. This is precisely why flexible citizenship and flexible marketing must work together, because if the individual doesn’t have ties back to his homeland, his or her branding won’t be recognized globally.
Ex-Los Angeles Laker, Kobe Bryant, is the epitome of a global sports brand. In some ways, it is strange to recognize an individual as a brand, but when considering Bryant’s marketability with his signature shoe line and “Black Mamba” attire, it isn’t hard to argue that he is his own brand. Globalization in recent decades has brought the world together through sports, more than any other line of recreation and when there is a mass amount of people focused in on something, expect branding and money to follow. Bryant remains the most adored player in China even after leaving the NBA, and remains steadily ahead of current superstars such as LeBron James and Steph Curry in global popularity. Much like Yao Ming, Bryant is well received internationally due to his early life experiences. From growing up in Italy, to also learning to speak Spanish, he has had wide appeal throughout his career. This is not to say a player or other brand must have moved around a lot to be considered a global brand, but being relatable to a vast set of citizens around the world increases the marketability of a player greatly.
Bryant still makes an effort to visit China, and the citizens do indeed crowd around him when he makes his presence known on their streets. Finally, Bryant’s welcoming of his standing as a global brand, makes him all the more prominent because he truly embraces a diversity of cultures and when people notice this, they are willing to buy into his brand.
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