PAUL HOLMES: Petroskey commits a litany of PR errors by politicizing recent Hall of Fame celebration

Dale Petroskey is a former White House press spokesman, having served in that role during the Reagan administration. He is also, at least for now, the president of the Baseball Hall of Fame, an institution that exists independently of Major League Baseball and serves to honor its past.

Dale Petroskey is a former White House press spokesman, having served in that role during the Reagan administration. He is also, at least for now, the president of the Baseball Hall of Fame, an institution that exists independently of Major League Baseball and serves to honor its past.

You might think, considering his PR background, that Petroskey would be just the right man to help the Hall avoid the kind of PR snafus that have hounded the sport for the past decade. You'd be wrong. In fact, Petroskey was able to single-handedly create his own crisis last week, when he decided to rescind an invitation to actors/activists Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon, who were scheduled to visit the Hall to celebrate their movie Bull Durham. In a letter to the pair, Petroskey said he was canceling the event because he believed that by criticizing the president, the duo "ultimately could put our troops in even more danger." If there were a Hall of Fame for specious arguments, Petroskey would have earned a place with that comment. Exactly how do Robbins and Sarandon endanger troops by exercising their First Amendment rights? Does Petroskey envisage US troops so busy worrying about a difference of opinion between the President and the Hollywood establishment that they will not notice a suicide bomber sneaking up on them? When the decision sparked controversy - criticism in editorial columns and on the sports pages, and the refusal of writer Roger Kahn to honor an engagement at the Hall later this year - Petroskey, who must have been a heck of a PR guy, first expressed surprise, and then told everyone he had uninvited the pair because he didn't want them politicizing the Hall. He didn't explain why he didn't simply contact the two actors and ask them not to mention the war. He didn't explain how his inflammatory language about endangering the troops could possibly be read as an attempt to depoliticize the event. (It certainly didn't sound as though he would have been equally alarmed by the prospect of a pro-war thespian at the Hall.) And he didn't explain how his belief in the strict separation of baseball and state had been forged in the few short months since his decision to invite Ari Fleischer as a speaker just a year ago. The noted academic and author Gerald Early once observed that "there are only three things the United States will be remembered for 2,000 years from now: the Constitution, jazz music, and baseball." Petroskey's actions make it look as though the third of those institutions has no respect for the first. In the process, he has made baseball look like the un-American pastime.
  • Paul Holmes has spent the past 16 years writing about the PR business for publications including PRWeek, Inside PR, and Reputation Management. He is currently president of The Holmes Group and editor of www.holmesreport.com.

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