Bob Baffert is factually the most accomplished American trainer of Thoroughbred racehorses in the long history of the sport.  Similarly, Urban Meyer coached three collegiate football teams to national championships, which puts him in the upper echelon of college coaches historically.  John Gruden is not in the “great” category of NFL coaches, but he is certainly “very good” (as shown by his $10 million annual salary) and coached Tampa Bay to a Super Bowl victory.

Yet all three of these exceptional achievers suddenly have tarnished reputations, Baffert for his trainee Medina Spirit testing positive for a prohibited substance after winning the Kentucky Derby, Meyer for depiction in a video that went viral of him up close and personal in his Columbus, Ohio, bar/restaurant with a young woman, and Gruden for sending emails years ago containing derogatory remarks about several NFL participants.

A common thread in these episodes is that self-destructive behavior was amplified by a combination of smart phones, social media, email, texts, and the common carrier internet. High-profile individuals of previous eras did not have to account for these modern marvels.

In the case of Baffert, he went on national television shortly after the 2021 Kentucky Derby, apparently unprepared, and blamed the “cancel culture” for his dilemma.  Then he gave another interview and seemed to imply that some unnamed source was out to get him.  The woe-is-me explanations were pilloried in social media and added fuel to an already raging PR fire.

Meyer had a business reason to be in his own eating and drinking establishment, but he should have known that, as a former Ohio State University football coach, he would be swamped by fans…and recorded on smart phones.  This is precisely what happened when a suggestively-dancing young woman approached him while he appeared to be sitting on a bar stool…and a smart-phone visual promptly went out across the internet.

Gruden would likely have survived and remained coach of the Las Vegas Raiders had he made (deniable) oral comments rather than put them in emails.  The emails proved to be the “smoking gun” that ensured his downfall.

Given human frailties, all people whose jobs put them in the public eye have said and done things they would not want to become widely known.  But the singularity of the current day and age is that smart phones make reporters of us all, social media informs the world with lightning speed, and ratings-hungry news sources are always looking for click bait like Baffert, Meyer, and Gruden provided.

Many prudent leaders of business and non-profit organizations do not use corporate email and personal social media, and don’t put themselves in compromising situations.  That way, words and actions cannot be twisted and misconstrued. And legal and public-relations disasters don’t come about by comments or incidents of the kind that ensnared winners, respectively, of two Triple Crowns, three NCAA football titles, and a Super Bowl.

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