Lowell Cohn: Some etiquette lessons for Jed York
Dear Jed York,
Because no one taught you how to act as a young man in the world, because no one schooled you in the complicated etiquette of being a team owner, I am offering my services. I am offering them sincerely and openly.
I expected your dad had taught you, or your mom, or your famous uncle. I was obviously incorrect. Every young man needs guidance from an older man, guidance on how to comport himself with poise in an uncertain world. I certainly needed it. And I got it. I am offering my guidance to you with the following four suggestions.
Suggestion No. 1: Give up your Twitter account. You represent the 49ers, an iconic franchise, and you must act with dignity. Twitter is undignified. Can you imagine Bill Walsh or Carmen Policy tweeting their thoughts about team matters? Never in a million years.
Twitter has its purposes, but as a forum for serious team communications it falls woefully short. What you tweeted after the Niners lost to the Seahawks, that apology which undercut your players and coaches, trivialized the team. And it trivialized you, made you seem small and immature.
It is tempting when you are frustrated or when your feelings are hurt to lash out on Twitter. Don’t give yourself that option. Stop tweeting. If you have something to say, write a press release with the help of your public-relations staff who will help you temper your emotions, help you come across professionally.
Suggestion No. 2: Learn to speak at the appropriate time. You need serious improvement in this area. On Thursday night, you unwisely took to Twitter. Wrong time to communicate. At other times this season, you have been invisible and inaudible. There was that fiasco about the stadium grass when you made Jim Harbaugh, no grass expert, speak for the team. But that was relatively trivial.
Much worse, actually damning for you, was the Ray McDonald incident. Again, you forced Harbaugh to speak about legal issues, to speak about due process when he had no business addressing those matters.
It was your business. You should have conducted a news conference on this serious issue aided by a team lawyer, if that’s what you needed. It was your job to stand up and explain the organization’s position. It was your job to be out front when your organization most needed you.
You failed to do that. By failing, you gave the impression — perhaps incorrect — that you were afraid and unable to speak intelligently about a grown-up matter. True, you went on radio. But you went on KNBR, the 49ers’ rights holder hoping, I guess, the station would be on your side. You should have faced the media at large. You demonstrated a lack of stature. A team owner needs to project stature.
Suggestion No. 3: Fire your employees in an honorable, professional manner. No one would suggest you can’t fire people. It is your team and your prerogative to fire anyone you want. But allow your employees their dignity. Don’t come across to the league as the spoiled brat owner who initiates the firing process with a tweet.
Because that’s what you did, Jed. You announced to the world Harbaugh is out after this season. You did it on a tweet. And that reflects badly on the 49ers. There are ways to let employees go. You do it in private. You do it politely — as politely as possible.