Adam Johnson's football career 'over' but no damage to the game, say PR pros

Former Sunderland player Adam Johnson's football career is over and he will find it tough to find PR support - but the midfielder's high profile conviction for child sex offences does not give football a reputational red card, PRs say.

Johnson outside court (Credit: Anna Gowthorpe/PA Wire/Press Association Images)
Johnson outside court (Credit: Anna Gowthorpe/PA Wire/Press Association Images)

The trial and yesterday's conviction of Johnson has been a top trend on Twitter, features on the front page of several tabloid and broadsheet newspapers today and has commanded significant coverage since his initial arrest a year and a day ago.

Yesterday, Johnson was told to expect five to ten years in jail after being found guilty of sexual activity with a child.

Johnson's club, Sunderland AFC, has been criticised for allowing Johnson to continue playing before his trial - but in a lengthy statement on its website yesterday it said it had not "been involved in tactical discussions about the plea", despite allegations of this made in several outlets.

The statement said: "The club was not advised in advance that Mr Johnson would plead guilty to any offence. Had the club known that Mr Johnson intended to plead guilty to any of these charges, then his employment would have been terminated immediately. Indeed, upon learning of the guilty plea on 11 February 2016, the club acted quickly and decisively in terminating Adam Johnson’s contract without notice.

"This has been an extremely difficult time for all involved. The victim and her family have endured an unimaginable ordeal in the past 12 months and we trust that they will now be allowed to move on with their lives without further intrusion or public scrutiny."

The Premier League declined to comment when contacted by PRWeek, saying the matter was an HR issue between (former) employee and employer.

Entertainment PR specialist Gary Farrow, managing director of The Corporation, said: "His football career is over. The longer he’s away from the game, I doubt anyone will take a punt on him. There’s lots of young players coming through, you would be putting your whole club at risk by saying you advocate his behaviour."

Farrow said that Johnson's changing of his plea reflected badly on the footballer, as it appeared he had "planned" this to allow the continuation of his football career between arrest and conviction.

On Johnson's prospects of finding PR support, Farrow said: "I would assume for any PR it would be too tough a situation. It’s a no-win issue, you can’t begin to assess damage limitation until you know how long he’ll be away for."

Rebecca Hopkins, managing director at crisis management specialist ENS – who has previously written for PRWeek about Ched Evans, another sex offender footballer – added: "For another footballer to be in the headlines for all the wrong reasons is incredibly disappointing but it won’t damage the sport. Quite simply, football is too big and while Johnson’s conduct has been reprehensible, footballer misconduct is nothing new.

"The likelihood of Johnson playing again is miniscule; even if his prison time is only a few years and his age wasn’t a factor, the chances of signing with another club are remote at best."

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