Rookie mistake feeds hunger for access

Updated: July 7, 2009, 6:29 PM ET
By Ryan Corazza | Special to ESPN.com

The Brandon Jennings we know: McDonald's All-American flattop-rocker, Young Money upper-back tattoo-sporter, University of Arizona bypasser in favor of a one-year stint in Italy, Ricky Rubio hater, draft-day late arrival.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Jennings
Getty ImagesBrandon Jennings, right, had a year of pro seasoning in Italy, but the 19-year-old got a tough lesson in public relations this past week.

The 19-year-old is brash. He's got swagger.

But the public was also treated -- though briefly -- to another chapter in Jennings' early career over the weekend: A phone conversation he had with rapper Joe Budden that was recorded on a webcam by Budden, and uploaded to YouTube in two parts by user TotalReviewNet. This conversation had profanity. It had the n-word. Jennings says "F--- the Knicks" for not drafting him, among other things. As quickly as it went up and was first reported on the Sporting News' NBA blog The Baseline, it was just as quickly taken down. (Though other YouTube users continue to re-upload parts of it.) Jennings' Twitter account, one that makes mention of hanging out with Budden and how he wants to be on "Joe Budden TV," has vanished from the Web as well. (For now, a cached version can be viewed here.)

There hasn't been 100 percent confirmation that it was Jennings on the other end of the line, but adding the above evidence to the fact that Jennings is apparently friends with Budden and that the entire conversation centers on the guy on the other end of the line being drafted by Milwaukee, all signs point to Jennings.

When I called BDA Sports Marketing -- which represents Jennings -- to see if they had a statement on the matter, I was told there would be no comment at this time.

If you just read the transcript of the conversation it's easy to conclude this was a case of Jennings flying off the handle, saying things he shouldn't have said in terms of his image and marketability at this stage of his career. And that's the on-the-surface takeaway, too: Though an active social media presence is imperative in 2009 from a business standpoint, as it can bring in other revenue streams and makes you more desirable for endorsements, you have to be careful. Players are advised of this. One mess-up or ill-advised comment can send you the other way in terms of appeal. This is PR 101.

But digging deeper here, Jennings might be miscast: If you actually listen to the conversation instead of reading the transcript or just hearing what Jennings said secondhand, it's quite clear these are two friends clowning around a bit back and forth. Though unconfirmed by Jennings or Budden at this point, some have said Jennings wasn't even aware the conversation was being taped and streamed.

If this is true, and Jennings didn't know the conversation was being filmed, he most certainly is going to speak differently than he would if he knew it was being broadcast. I talk differently with my friends on the phone than I would to other people in a more formal setting. We all do. I've directed profanity at a few places -- prospective employers, like Jennings did with the Knicks -- and people before in my life. Most of us have. How can you fault the guy for this?

Though social media has given us more access to athletes, and some of them have taken to it with serious gusto, there's still a limit to what they're going to do and say. Social media is the public sphere; an athlete's truly private life is still his or her private life. It's a shame if Jennings' private life was aired for us to hear unbeknownst to him.

Because up until this point, he has actually answered questions with honesty and candor. The Rubio comments were real. What athlete does that nowadays? In a sea of canned answers to reporters, Jennings has asserted himself as a guy who will at least give you some flavor and real truth when you stick a microphone in his face.

You wonder if Jennings will be advised after this incident to lock it up for good. If his Rubio comments were a taste of the real guy, the conversation with Budden was a full helping. It's a shame we might not hear anything quite like it for some time.

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