Few news stories have touched me so profoundly, and emotionally, as the tragic incident that occurred on July 7. Shannon Stone was attending a Texas Rangers baseball game with his 6-year-old son, Cooper, and died after falling about 20 feet trying to catch a ball thrown to him by outfielder Josh Hamilton. He fell head first onto the concrete between the stands and the outfield wall. Cooper watched his dad fall. Shannon later died at the hospital.
Sadly, Josh Hamilton is Cooper’s favorite player. He even had his jersey on during the game. I wish I had space to share more details about this story. But my purpose here is to highlight the way Hall of Fame pitcher and Texas Rangers president Nolan Ryan handled himself in the two press conferences following this incident.
Communicating in the immediate aftermath of a crisis is not easy. Yet, Ryan provided an excellent example for PR practitioners on how to say the right things in the right way.
He made it about the family.
” As an organization and as team members and as a staff, we are very heavy-hearted about this and our thoughts and prayers go out to the family. That’s where we are tonight, our thoughts are with them and in respect to the family we won’t have any other statement tonight.”
Nolan mentioned that he called Shannon’s wife, Jenny, personally and asked how he could help her and her family.
He made it about the fans.
“As an organization we are going to be looking into this because our number one concern is the safety of our fans. We’ll do whatever we have to do to make this stadium as safe as we possibly can for our fans.”
The team has since announced it will raise the height of the railings and add signage reading: “Do not lean, sit on, or stand against rail.” And a pregame announcement will be read reminding fans of that information over the Public Address system and the scoreboards as well.
He made it personal to him.
“We’re about making memories, family entertainment,” he said. “I certainly understand – and I’m no different than our fan base – when I was younger and I went to the ballpark my hope was to get a foul ball. . . As a father and a grandfather, my heart goes out to that family and to Jenny Stone and for her son Cooper.”
Nolan Ryan also got the tone right by delivering his words in a heartfelt manner that showed genuine concern and compassion. It helped that his demeanor was calm, steady, and reserved.
In a crisis, the public wants to believe the spokesperson is competent and compassionate enough to fix the problem. In these areas, Nolan hit a PR home run. He diffused any possible controversy and made the story, not about him or the Texas Rangers, but about Shannon Stone.