Did we just witness the entirety of Stephen Strasburg’s professional baseball career in the span of mere months? I doubt it, given that the success rate of Tommy John’s surgery is over 90%, but it is a possibility.
Strasburg is one of the most hyped players in professional sports in recent memory and he was living up to the buzz in his first season. Not only was he delivering on the mound, with 98-100 MPH fastballs and dirty curveballs, but he was generating more television viewers, ballpark visitors, and straight cash for the game of baseball, a sport which is still struggling somewhat from the Steroids Era.
Many have called Strasburg’s injury a “sad day for baseball.” And it is. But let’s forget about the game for a moment and think about the individual. What a potentially awful day for Stephen Strasburg.
Considering that significant injuries happen all the time in sports (St. Louis Rams’ wide receiver Donny Avery tore his ACL last week, for example, and is out for the season), and that we live in a time where personal branding has become so important, is it foolish for any professional athlete, Stephen Strasburg or not, to not be focusing on building their brand off the field?
To be fair, Stephen Strasburg is only 21 years old. He’s hardly had enough time to grow a beard, let alone a personal brand. It’s also important to consider the fact that Strasburg’s brand has been built, to an extent, on its own. But the brand is all built around his pitching ability.
We know little about his personality or his character. Sure, the kid has an amazingly freakish ability to throw a ball 60 feet at another man’s outstretched hand, but what else is there to Stephen Strasburg?
Personal Website. The absolute best platform for long-term online branding is a personal website or blog. Forget Facebook or Twitter. They could disappear tomorrow! Unlikely, but true. A personal site also gives you the most control. You create the content, talk about whatever you want! Show diversity! Be you! You control the layout and the design. And the domain is your choice as well.
Social Media. Use social media to interact with fans and build up loyalty. Every pro athlete’s playing career ends at some point. That’s just a fact. And while performance on the court/field is the biggest determination of legacy, there are certainly retired athletes who are still beloved for their personality more than anything else. Your advantage is that you already have a built-in fan base, you have a head start on most of us. So start showing them you care!
Traditional Media. Many retired athletes find second careers in the traditional media. Take Jalen Rose, for example. During his playing career, when he was either injured or in the offseason, would make television appearances as a basketball analyst. Today, he is a retired NBA player, but has become an employee of ESPN/ABC as a NBA analyst. There are opportunities for current athletes to participate in traditional media in their spare time, which could lead to second careers down the line. Obviously, not for everyone.
Finish Your Degree. Hey, it’s an option!
There are many layers to Strasburg’s injury. I just barely touched on the negative impact his absence will have on the game of baseball (while fascinating, this topic has been discussed thoroughly). The injury, for me, was a fantastic opportunity to highlight the importance of personal branding for professional athletes. Athletes can’t be athletes forever. And autograph sessions with fans, hosting infomercials, and VH1 reality show appearances won’t be there forever either.
In closing, I absolutely hope and pray that Strasburg’s career is not over. There is no real reason to think so. But… what if?