Off the field: an empirical examination of the impact of athlete transgressions and response strategy on the image repair and crisis communication process
This dissertation was designed to investigate to what extent that an athlete's transgression can damage not only the athlete's image, but the image of the team that depends on that athlete's image to maintain its positive image. Using Benoit's Image Repair Theory, this study explored to what extent the type of transgression faced by an athlete and his/her response to the transgression affect the image of that athlete. This study also examined to what extent the type of transgression faced by an athlete, the response of the team that athlete represents to the transgression, and the team's history of dealing with athlete transgression affects a team's image using Coombs' Situational Crisis Communication Theory. Using two experiments, the researcher empirically examined the effects of transgression type, crisis history and response strategy on athlete and team image, team responsibility, and the behavioral intentions impacted by image, while controlling for participant's prior knowledge of the cases used in the experiment, and the participant's degree of moral judgment. Specifically, the first experiment examined the effects of the type of transgression (criminal vs. non-criminal) and the athlete's response to the transgression (mortification vs. attacking the accuser vs. bolstering) on the athlete's image and the amount of negative word-of-mouth generated about the athlete. The second experiment examined the effects of the type of transgression (internal vs. external), the team's history of athlete transgressions (positive vs. negative) and the team's response to the transgression (apology vs. scapegoating vs. justification) on the amount of responsibility placed on the team for the athlete's transgression, the team's reputation, the amount of negative word-of-mouth and supportive behavior generated towards the team. For Experiment I, results showed that regardless of the type of transgression, an athlete will repair his/her image better if they use the mortification strategy rather than the attacking the accuser or bolstering strategy. However, there is evidence that the preferred strategy used to improve an athlete's image can depend on the type of transgression the athlete faces. Results also showed that the more negative the athlete's image is perceived, the more negative WOM generated about that athlete. For Experiment II, results were similar to previous studies using Coombs' SCCT theory. More responsibility was attributed to a team when the athlete in question is facing a transgression that occurred during play or team activities rather than facing a transgression external to the team. Also, more responsibility was attributed to a team when it has a history of athletes facing transgressions, and the more responsibility attributed to the team, the more negatively the team is perceived by stakeholders. Results did not support the recommendations provided by Coombs for choosing SCCT strategies, but they did support the links between reputation and behavior: the more positive the team's reputation, the less negative WOM generated about the team, and the more positive the team's reputation, the more stakeholders are willing to support the team.