Crisis Communications: Oscar Pistorius

Oscar PistoriusParalympian Oscar Pistorius is currently the only suspect in the alleged “premeditated murder” of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Thursday, February 14.

According to reports shared by CNN, Pistorius claims that he was not wearing his prosthetic legs when he heard sounds in his bathroom. Robyn Curnow et al. write, “Feeling vulnerable in the pitch dark and too scared to turn on the lights, the track star pulled his 9mm pistol from beneath his bed, moved toward the bathroom and fired into the door.”

It wasn’t until after he shot through the door three times that Pistorius called to his girlfriend to call the police, only to realize that she wasn’t in bed. Upon entering the bathroom, he found her bleeding from gunshot wounds. In his statement to the police, he said, “I tried to render the assistance to Reeva that I could, but she died in my arms…I am absolutely mortified by the events and the devastating loss of my beloved Reeva.”

While both sides agree that Pistorius did shoot Steenkamp, the issue rests in whether or not the act was done intentionally (after a heated argument as the prosecution suggests) or by accident (as Pistorius claims).

Oscar Pistorius was released on bail on February 22. In a report shared by USA Today, Magistrate Desmond Nair is quoted as saying, “Pistorius is not a flight risk and does not show ‘a propensity for violence’ or constitute a risk to the community.” In his closing statements, the magistrate highlighted Pistorius’ willingness to cooperate with the legal proceedings and stated that was a factor in his decision. Pistorius’ court date is set for June 4, 2013, giving prosecutors and investigators three months to prepare for Pistorius’ next appearance in the Pretoria Magistrate’s Court.

Oscar Pistorius’ Reputation & Sponsorships

Oscar PistoriusDespite all of the negative publicity, Pistorius is best known for this motivational image of him running with Ellie Challis, a five-year-old who lost her hands and lower legs at 16 months after contracting meningitis.

This image, taken before Pistorius competed in the 2012 London Olympics, helped increase awareness of the hardships families face in obtaining prosthetic limbs—highlighting young children and families that could not afford to purchase limb replacements annually and the challenges they face with insurance companies.

Mike Hendrick, founder of the Mineseeker Foundation where Pistorius is an ambassador, recently supported the athlete in an interview with Hendrick told the online media outlet that, “I’ve known Oscar since he was 18 and all our experiences with him have been very uplifting and good…Oscar Pistorius is a man of ‘deep humility and respect for life.'”

On February 20th, The Guardian (UK) reported that “Oscar Pistorius was estimated to receive endorsements worth more than $2M a year” and that, although sponsors initially stood by the athlete, many companies were announcing that they were dropping Oscar Pistorius.

According to the Bulldog Reporter, the eyewear maker, Oakley emailed a statement to Pistorius’ management team saying, “In light of the recent allegations, Oakley is suspending its contract with Oscar Pistorius, effective immediately.”

KeJuan Wilkins, a spokesman of Nike Inc. (which was highlighted as having made Pistorius’ carbon-fiber blades during the Olympics) shared that the company has “no plans to use him in future ad campaigns” and the Associated Press points out that a 2007 Nike Internet ad showing Pistorius starting to sprint in his blades with the caption: “I am the bullet in the chamber” has already been pulled (featured below).

As the details of Reeva Steenkamp’s shooting continue to be investigated, Pistorius’ agent canceled all of his scheduled races and his team has posted media statements on Oscar Pistorius’ official website. Some suggest that the sponsors are making an unfair example of Pistorius, especially in the case of Nike, since the company previously stood by Lance Armstrong, who admitted to doping earlier this year; Tiger Woods, who admitted to numerous affairs and sex addiction; and Michael Vick, who went to jail for illegal dog-fighting.

Although he may be painted as a murderer in the media (as exemplified by this week’s cover of TIME magazine), Pistorius still has supporters online. An article in CNN sited posts from users on Twitter who stated they believed Pistorius’ story after reading the affidavit and a simple search for “Oscar Pistorius” produces multiple opinions from around the world.

Many are weighing in on the athlete’s role in Steenkamp’s death, but Oscar Pistorius has remained quiet on his social media accounts. His Twitter @OscarPistorius hasn’t been updated since February 13, the night before Reeva Steenkamp’s death.

What would you suggest for Oscar Pistorius’ public relations team?

Suggested Reading

  • ABC News | Police: No Inconsistencies in Oscar Pistorius’ Account
  • NBC | Oscar Pistorius Nike bullet ad video: ‘Bullet’ commercial with Pistorius taken off air, not YouTube

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Yasheaka Oakley Owens

Yasheaka Oakley Owens is the owner of YOakleyPR, a woman-owned small business that provides public relations, social media, and online marketing support services to small businesses and 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations in Southeastern Pennsylvania, Southern New Jersey and Delaware.

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