September 9, 2019
Atlanta United Coach Addresses Controversial Comments
Gender pay equity is a growing and important topic in professional sports, especially in women’s soccer. So, it’s not that surprising to hear Atlanta United coach Frank de Boer offering an apology for his choice of words during an interview with a British news publication.
Speaking to The Guardian, De Boer said it was “ridiculous” that female World Cup players are demanding equal pay to men. The blowback was almost instantaneous. It began, as most do these days, on social media with people roundly condemning the coach for his comments.
Initially, De Boer’s apology came with a caveat that he didn’t want to be a distraction to his team going into a big game against Club America. He blamed what he called a poor choice of words on his less-than-perfect English. De Boer, who is Dutch, does speak several languages, but, of the comment in question, said he realized he made a poor word choice: “It’s a hard word if I read that word only. If you see the whole context, I was very clear that I always promote women’s soccer…”
He added: “I will promote (pay equity)… I think if they deserve it, they have to earn it. If they want to be paid more, they have to earn more than men. That’s how it is… But, again, I think the word ‘ridiculous’ was a little bit hard… I will always support not only women who play soccer but do youth sports. It’s very good mentally, and healthy. Team sports are fantastic. Hopefully, we will see a lot of women doing sport, especially soccer…”
Many have made similar comments without much blowback, but De Boer was already on the radar for making controversial comments, some have called “blunt” or ill-considered. Not long ago, he called Atlanta United fans “spoiled” because of complaints about the team’s struggles at the time. He apologized then too, once again crediting the misquote to differences in English and his native language.
Coaches haranguing fair-weather fans is fairly common in sport. This latest gaffe is something else entirely. De Boer may believe he was right in sentiment, and he might be in some eyes. But, when it comes to public relations, there’s a question of timing and context to consider. There are times when answering a question may not be the best idea. Choosing not to comment might be the better option. That can be tough, but it can also be necessary in order to avoid unnecessary PR gaffes and subsequent apologies.
Ronn Torossian is the CEO and Founder of 5W Public Relations.