Banner's silence would be golden

Joe Banner, the Eagles' president and chief spokesman, appeared to finish second best in a radio skirmish with Mayor Nutter yesterday over sky box revenues.
Joe Banner, the Eagles' president and chief spokesman, appeared to finish second best in a radio skirmish with Mayor Nutter yesterday over sky box revenues.
Posted: April 24, 2009

This may surprise you, but I truly want Joe Banner and the Eagles' front office to succeed. When the Birds' brains excel, the team wins, and so do the fans.

That's why I'm offering Banner some free advice: Shut up. Please.

Step away from the microphone, Joe. Avoid all cameras and tape recorders. If you see someone coming at you with a pen and a notebook, cross the street and head in the other direction. It's for the best.

Every time the man opens his mouth, he invariably angers someone. Banner is the team's president and chief spokesman and, for reasons that defy logic, the face of the franchise. He's probably good at the first job, but he's particularly ill-suited for the last two. It's like asking a carnival midget to box out in a pickup basketball game.

Yesterday, Banner and Mayor Nutter appeared separately on the morning show of WIP-AM (610). Both addressed the ongoing legal tiff between the city and the team. Guess who sounded more sympathetic.

"My position is very direct, very simple, and very clear," the mayor said. "There's a judgment with regard to the sky box revenues that was determined to be at least $8 million. Pay that. Pay it now."

When Banner went on the air, he swore to the team's secret, undocumented side deal with former Mayor John F. Street - an agreement that supposedly would have allowed the Birds to settle their debt with the city for far less than $8 million. Even for a team owned by a billionaire, $8 million is a fair amount of money. But paying up has to be a better alternative than accruing all this negative publicity by linking the Eagles to Street.

Why would you admit to having an under-the-table deal with a shady administration that was tainted by a sweeping corruption scandal? And hinting that Street is a liar wins the Eagles no points. They still look dirty by association.

But here's where the Eagles continue to really go wrong: If you're dead set on fighting City Hall, you need to do so carefully. To successfully navigate through endless news cycles, you need a representative with credibility and aplomb. Someone who connects with the people. Someone with wit and charm and, above all, tact. Someone, in other words, who's the opposite of Banner.

When reminded yesterday that the city is broke and the Eagles aren't, Banner's response was obtuse.

"Listen, they are not broke," Banner said. "They are spending billions of dollars. They're just spending more than they have. Anyone can make that mistake. The city has got a massive, massive budget."

Sigh.

Google City of Philadelphia and budget deficit and see what you come up with. I'm no numbers cruncher and I've never been good with a calculator, but I'm fairly certain that when you owe $1.4 billion more than you have, that means you're pretty well tapped out.

Part of the reason Philadelphia still has a massive operating budget is that essential civil services need funding. Otherwise, things would get awfully ugly around here. If Banner wants to tell cops to stop policing the streets or teachers to stop educating kids or garbage men to stop picking up trash, he's welcome to do so. But some of us actually live in this city, and we'd prefer that it not resemble a wretched, post-apocalyptic Kevin Costner movie.

But Banner knows all that. He knows the city is hard up for cash. He's not dumb. He's just playing dumb in public to curry favor. And it's not working. It never does.

Unfortunately, the news coming out of the NovaCare Complex frequently has nothing to do with football and everything to do with the insensitive, boorish, greedy, out-of-touch knotheads who run the franchise the way Kennedy handled the Bay of Pigs operation - stupidly, and with no real understanding of why public perception matters or how quickly it can sink you.

This flap with the city is just one more badly bungled PR affair. Hoagiegate. Terrell Owens. Lito Sheppard. Brian Dawkins. Dan Leone, the stadium worker who criticized the team on Facebook because it let Dawkins walk. The inflammatory statement the Eagles released on Sheldon Brown. And those are just the fires I can remember. All those situations required expert spin and a deft touch, and all were botched in one way or another.

The Eagles aren't always to blame, and neither is Banner. But when you're the go-to spokesman for all major matters, your job is to solve the problem even if you didn't create it. Or if you can't solve it, you at least need to make it go away.

That's the issue with Banner. He's often dismissive and smug. It's hard for people to warm up to someone who snickers at them while explaining why the Eagles are right and everyone else is wrong. Put simply, he often makes things worse.

While I'm dispensing free advice, I have some for Jeffrey Lurie: You need to find a new face for your franchise, and you need to do it right now. It can't wait any longer. I'm not saying you should fire Banner. You just need to keep him out of the spotlight.

If you're wondering, I have no idea who should serve as the front man. But we all know who shouldn't.


Contact columnist John Gonzalez at 215-854-2813 or gonzalez@phillynews.com.

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