“You know that Mr Stokes is a man of national reputation”. The words of Judge Blair rang in the ears of the jury. As if they needed telling, much less anyone who had cared to pick up a paper in the last week.
This was no normal criminal case. Everyone from the avid 40 years-long MCC member to those who would never dream of opening the back pages of the Telegraph had an opinion. But don’t worry Mr Stokes, join the ranks of great sports stars who have experienced the cold judgement of the wider public and have come out the other side.
On the eve of Stokes’ trial what could have been more comforting to the England cricketer than seeing Tiger Woods continue to banish his past demons through another stunning performance? As he came within a whisker of taking his 15th major, Woods was greeted by an adoring fan base – which sometimes seems to be more passionate about their hero in light of his past.
It’s coming up to nine years since the day Tiger drove his Cadillac into a water hydrant to tee off the ensuing mess. Nine years since he lost $22 million in endorsements over night and nine years to recover to a position where Tiger is not only celebrated but loved.
What this perhaps shows most is that Stokes can take solace in two facts of life:
1) that a reputation is always recoverable and;
2) you can be doubly sure of fact 1) if you’re a sportsman.
Take David Beckham following his red mist saga of the 1998 World Cup, or John Terry’s alleged affair with his teammate’s wife of 2010… or allegations of racism by John Terry of 2012, this time enough damage done to lose the England captaincy. The sportsmen were ridiculed to the point where you thought there was no return. An effigy of Golden Balls was hung from an East London pub! The football ‘fans’ who pop up every 4 years to watch England were happy to write off Beckham and Terry. These were overpaid football prima-donnas who did not deserve the nations support let alone be role models.
Now these non-back page readers are entitled to their opinion but that does not necessarily complete the full picture when it comes to assessing reputation damage. Far from defending the actions of Stokes, Woods or Terry here but something cannot be denied. Sport generates a fandom that acts as some sort of protective cloak. Fans have invested days, years of their lives emotionally attaching themselves to their heroes. Their quality on the pitch has been to such an extent that it has built them a reputation bank in which to dip into on a rainy day. In some cases, raid.
But this “bank of credibility” will always provide a platform from which to recover. Much like Woods, Ben Stokes now has this opportunity. Endorsements are still there to be had. His fans’ attachment is still just that, an attachment and Stoke’s has the rest of his career to put this right. As a sportsman he is in the envious position to let his cricket do the talking. For us corporates (and those not that good at their sport) we must remain happy with the constant hard slog of building up that bank without the help of fans.