It's not every day that an MVP winner from one of America's premier sports leagues is charged with multiple felony counts that could land him behind bars for the better part of a century. In contrast with O.J. Simpson, Allen Iverson of the Philadelphia 76ers is still playing the game, and is in his prime.
There has been no shortage of media coverage this month as Iverson was charged and arraigned on 14 counts related to an early July domestic disturbance.
It started with Iverson throwing his bride of nine months out of his mansion, stark naked, in the wee hours of the morning. He then tried to track her down by breaking into a relative's home with an unlicensed pistol, and threatening the occupants into informing him where she was.
Media Watch paid particular attention to recent coverage that addressed Iverson's marketability and image in light of recent events. Attention turned most often to what impact this would have on Reebok and Sega Sports, the two companies that use Iverson's image to market their products. Far more attention was devoted to the impact on Reebok, which has a "lifetime contract with Iverson that pays an estimated $10 million a year for his promotion of an Iverson-branded shoe. It was also noted that Iverson's Jersey is the NBA's bestseller.
Most coverage reported what would seem to be the obvious - that felony charges would hurt Iverson's image and marketability. But in the eyes of the Associated Press (July 16), Iverson did not do his image any favors by partying until dawn - while under house arrest - with a group of friends at his mansion before turning himself in. AP wrote, "He just showed that he can act as arrogantly and audaciously as he wants and get away with it ... He had to show everyone that he plays the game by his own rules. Contrition is not his style."
The media also painted the picture of a person with recurring brushes with the law, as reports reminded the public of two previous arrests, including a bowling alley brawl for which he served four months in prison.
While all of this would surely mark the end of most product spokespeople's careers, there were several reports that suggested that the felony charges against Iverson could enhance his image in Reebok's key demographic groups and Iverson's fan base, which may boost sales for products he endorses.
Because Iverson has always presented himself as a rough-around-the-edges, tattooed tough guy, some argued that the incident offers him yet another opportunity to prove his street credibility.
Coverage suggested Reebok knew full well what it was getting when it signed with Iverson, and that this was a risk it had accepted. Articles also presented Reebok as unswerving in its support for Iverson, arguing, "It is Allen's celebrity status, not the facts, that continues to fuel these proceedings (USA Today, July 12).
However, Reebok also caught some flak in the media for supporting Iverson so vocally before all the facts in such a sensitive case had come to light.
A columnist for the Fresno Bee (July 16) wrote, "Reebok cannot match the 'advertising' generated by Iverson's alleged idiocy. It is too bad the police cannot arrest Reebok too."
Time will tell whether or not Iverson's image is enhanced by this incident - or if Reebok's is damaged. However, questions are being asked about a society that either glorifies or overlooks the type of behavior Iverson is said to have exhibited that night.
Evaluation and analysis by CARMA International. Media Watch can be found at www.carma.com.