Just as NFL fans settled in for a day of what passes for normalcy in these times, arguing about the shocking departure of Tom Brady from New England and DeAndre Hopkins from Houston, another surprise announcement sent the sports world crashing back into the world of round-the-clock coronavirus coverage: New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton tested positive for COVID-19.
Showing the leadership for which New Orleans players and fans love him, Payton came right out of the gate with a message of positivity and example. He said he’s resting comfortably at home, and that his reason for going public with the result is to “motivate people to do more” to stave off or slow the pandemic.
He started by tipping off ESPN, before putting the message out on his personal social media accounts. He told fans he “appreciated all the well wishes” and assured them that he was “feeling better and fortunate” to not be suffering from the respiratory symptoms that are sending many people to the hospital.
As others have, Payton used his platform to spread a positive message of community, solidarity, and public duty. He said, in part:
“I was fortunate to be in the minority, without the serious side effects that some have. I’m lucky. We all need to do our part. It’s important for every one of us to do our part… So our parents, and those that are more susceptible to this virus deserve everyone doing their best to combat it. There are hundreds of people right now in tough predicaments, fighting for their lives.”
Payton continued to “coach up” his fans, saying this wasn’t just about social distancing, but about being “part of the solution” rather than “part of the problem.” He suggested people learned more about the “curve,” the chart that’s making the rounds showing the difference between a slow spread and a fast spread, the latter of which officials say could overwhelm hospitals.
From a PR perspective, Payton made a difficult public admission about a personal topic, yet he chose not to make it about himself. He talked about coming together, about teamwork, and about how everyone can do their part. He used his platform to implore people to “take a minute to understand” and to “listen to what experts are saying…” He encouraged people that what we are being asked is “not complicated” and that even a few simple actions could have a dramatic impact.
The message is very much in keeping with the tone and direction one might expect from a longtime coach at the top of his profession. He communicated in a way that sought to bring people together, made something personal about other people, and cast a simple vision that could have a profound result.