Extending Athlete Reputational Crises: Theorizing Underperformance Crises and the Flip Appeal

Lillian B. Feder, Diana Zulli


Crisis management scholarship recommends matching crisis response with crisis type to repair reputational damage. However, focusing on the corporate context has limited our understanding of crisis types and available responses. One crisis context yet to be extensively explored is sport/fan interactions online, an increasing site for athlete crises. This article addresses this gap, developing a theoretical framework for underperformance crises, where online publics perceive athletic underperformance as a norm violation that merits excessive hate toward athletes. Using the crisis case of basketball player E. J. Liddell, whose underperformance during a 2021 March Madness game resulted in widespread online harassment, we extend the situational crisis communication theory and athlete reputational crises to include underperformance as a unique crisis type. We then propose a new response strategy, termed the flip appeal, where underperformers can mitigate the crisis cycle through awareness raising, vulnerability, and inviting publics into the crisis narrative.


athlete reputational crises, attribution theory, crisis, situational crisis communication theory, social media

Full Text: