CHICAGO: Dim lighting, laughter, jerseys, helmets and the smell of sweat — these sights, sounds and smells evocative of a locker room are what ESPN sports analyst Sam Acho asked attendees at PRWeek’s PRDecoded conference to envision.
In locker rooms, the former NFL star and Chicago Bears linebacker both bared his soul to teammates and buttoned up to maintain appearances. During his panel at the Chicago event on Wednesday, Acho asked the crowd to think about when and where they’ve done the same.
In an industry that revolves around maintaining appearances, those in PR can find infrequent opportunities to be themselves. That’s why at his panel, Acho asked the entire crowd to pair off into groups to answer three questions:
- How’d you get here?
- What keeps you from being authentic?
- What is some trauma or pain in our stories that can be used to help someone else’s story?
The crowd included those in senior communications positions. Acho spoke to them directly, using an anecdote about a conversation he had with Chicago Bears chairman George McCaskey in 2017, when Colin Kaepernick still kneeled on the turf protesting racial injustice and police brutality in the U.S.
When his team looked to him over whether or not they would kneel or stand for the National Anthem, Acho decided they would stand and lock arms together.
“What do you do when uncomfortable situations arise?” he asked the crowd. “What do you do when there are situations where you believe one thing but you’re speaking up for a lot of other people?”
McCaskey approached Acho and they spoke about the decision and racial injustices pervading the country. McCaskey took Acho on police ride-alongs and Acho took McCaskey to a prison and rap concert, Acho said.
“This simple invitation from this person in a position of power led not only to dynamic change, but led to a relationship,” he said. “It’s a big opportunity for you all to make some major change. Will you step up to the plate?”
Acho pushed those in senior comms positions to similarly encourage authenticity from their employees.
“There are issues in front of you that you’re facing,” he said. “People are waiting for you to move. When you move, lives will change.”