How Deion Sanders may have made Devin Hester the NFL’s public relations saving Grace

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Let’s get one thing straight: I’m am an avid New Orleans Saints fan. And if there is one thing a Saints fan can’t stand, it’s the Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons are our heated NFC South divisional rivals, we can’t stand them and that down-to-the-wire, 27-24 season-opening win over us didn’t help.

The acquisition of wide receiver and returner Devin Hester by the Falcons in the offseason didn’t move any mountains over in the “Land of the Who Dats” either, but his Thursday Night Football performance against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers did. Hester set an NFL record with 20 career scoring returns when he brought back a second-quarter punt 62 yards in the Falcons’ 56-14 win.

But it wasn’t so much the history-making return he ran that caught my attention. It was his sentiments after game  he exchanged with former Falcon and the previous record holder Deion “Primetime” Sanders. It was one of the most heartfelt, humble and gracious exchanged I’d ever witnessed.

It was also the best public relations (PR) the NFL could have ever asked for, considering the week it’s had. Domestic and child abuse dominated the news (and still does), suspensions followed and sponsorships were questioned.

“I’m overcome with emotion, right now … ,” Sanders said to Hester after the game. “I love you as a man, as a father, as a husband. I remember the beginning … I love you dude and I’m so proud of you … “

As a response, Hester recanted how Sanders used to frequently call and text him, and how he shared Sanders’ messages with his teammates for inspiration and the texts encouraged him to become a better player.

“The texts you used to send me … I really appreciate that man,” Hester said. “I want to tell you that man. You’ve always been there for me and I look up to you, man. I really do man. I really do … I love you.”

It was truly a “lovely” moment. The two embraced and for a minute, all was OK in the NFL. That was some good-old public relations you just couldn’t buy with Warren Buffett’s money. The PR gods smiled down on the Georgia Dome and filled it with an opportunity for the NFL to shine. Sanders’ love for Hester totally countered the views many were recently fed about football players. He’s loved as a man, father and husband, contrary to the public perception of certain NFL players. Devin Hester was certified as one of the good guys by one of the league’s most-recognized brands, Deion Sanders, and during that moment, I totally forgot about domestic and child abuse, suspensions and a certain beer company questioning the league’s ethics and morals.

The NFL needed that more than a sinner needs salvation or the Bucs needed 49 points to beat the Falcons. The league prayed for a PR savior and Primetime delivered. Here at Etched Communication, we understand that sometimes good PR just happens and with the right strategy, companies can capitalize and turn a panic into a party, if you will. That’s just what the NFL should do and embrace that moment the way Sanders did Hester. If it plays the game right, it could sore with that kind of PR and for an organization that is expected to generate approximately $9 billion from the 2014- season, that kind of PR is priceless.

By Nikki Bannister, @NikBannister

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