One of the toughest jobs of a publicist is learning how to lie. It's the one thing about my career that keeps me awake at night. I'm not looking for sympathy—I chose this profession. But as some of you know, it can be a dangerous circle, telling lies to keep other lies intact.
Sometimes I lie to my client's friends, or his wife, or his girlfriend, or his other family members. Quite often I lie to the public.
It's always been my belief that if an athlete is really living a good, clean life, treating everyone right and giving back to the community, a publicist isn't a priority. If he's putting up good stats or helping the team win, then the coverage will come.
If an athlete has a publicist, he wants something more: He wants to be famous. There is no other reason. Most publicists will tell you that it's because the athlete is such a good person, or because the athlete has an incredible story that wasn't getting told to the masses. We say that so we can make ourselves feel better (and also to sell our work to potential clients—even the spinning needs to be spun). But make no mistake about it: Fame is the underlying factor. And to sell an athlete's "real story," to help maintain the image his fame is based on, sometimes a publicist has to hide certain things.
I can't count anymore how many times I've had to say I was out with one of my clients, when I was really just lying on my couch eating cereal. But when a wife hasn't heard from her man, I'm second on the call list. I am the cover, the ultimate wing man. I'm so good I don't even need to go to the club with my clients. They just make sure to tell me where they are at all times. I make sure to remind them not to be caught in any photos.
One of my former clients was without a doubt the golden boy of his sport. He was an MVP candidate on the field; off the field, he was seemingly charitable and labeled by mothers nationwide as someone they'd want their daughters to marry. If they only knew ...
What no one really knew was how little this client actually cared about the community. Getting him to visit a school or children's hospital was like pulling teeth. I would have to provide him with a full list of reasons why he needed to do this. Of course, in all of his interviews, he would talk about his social responsibility to give back and how he wished he had an answer as to why other athletes in his sport weren't as caring as he was. He had a charity, too, which was simply a front to pay his family members (as most athlete charities are).
He also wasn't the "nice guy" everyone thought he was. One of the last straws for me was a Midwestern bar fight he and his friends got into one offseason. Those nights were typical—not necessarily the fighting, but the utter debauchery. They treated every night like a frat party. If you ask any publicist, he'll tell you that the male groupie childhood friend is much more trouble than any female groupie.
I received the call about the fight around 5 a.m. By that point, a couple people had been bailed out of jail, and others had received their stitches. A few people at the bar had recognized my client, but none of the officers had, thankfully. My client didn't live there; he was just visiting.
I spoke to the bar's managers and contacted people out of the incident report. My job was to keep this as quiet as possible. My client's team most definitely could not find out—and to this day it never has. In return for a signed confidentiality agreement from the witnesses, we offered up some nice ticket packages, a couple trips, and some memorabilia. Hush money, if you will. And it worked.
Professionally, I was flawless in my execution. Personally, I felt horrible. But as publicists, as employees of some of the most privileged and self-entitled people in the world, my feelings are inconsequential. We simply have to continue the lie our clients are living.
"Anonymous PR Guy" represents several professional athletes in several different sports. Occasionally, he will share stories with us about what it's really like to handle publicity for the pros. Image by Jim Cooke.