Image Repair Case Study: Lamar Odom

Lamar Odom was found in October 2015 at the Love Ranch, a brothel in Crystal, Nevada. The official ruling was that he suffered a near-fatal overdose. While Odom, himself, claims to not have been on anything besides herbal viagra and alcohol.

Love Ranch owner, Dennis Hof, said paramedics at the time told him Odom “wasn’t going to make it.” A lot was up in the air during the immediate days following the overdose. Odom was in a coma, and didn’t wake up until several days later.

This study is based on what image repair theories Lamar Odom used, and also how effective they were. Previous studies have been done, for example, on Michael Phelps. This study can be useful in that it shows how an athlete dealt with repairing his image (Walsh, 2011). This study focuses on William Benoit’s Image Repair Theory, which has five strategies (and several tactics for each) to be used to repair image. The strategies include: denial, reduction of offensiveness, evasion of responsibility, corrective action and mortification.

Moody (2011) discusses how media coverage can usually entail the celebrity’s initial strategies in going about repairing their image. The study discusses how Kate Gosselin’s responses to her divorce from Jon Gosselin were usually mirrored in the headlines of magazines she interviewed with.

Kauffman (2012) explores what the media coverage can entail if the media doesn’t side with the celebrity. The study explores Ricky Gervais faux pas after making unfavorable remarks at an awards show. In his case, unlike the case exploring Gosselin, the media was not as forgiving.

Walsh (2011) described Michael Phelps’ own image repair attempts. This study allowed us to view how another athlete, such as Lamar Odom, went about repairing his image.

In our case study of Lamar Odom, we used celebrity image repair theory to code and examine Odom’s responses in various interviews he gave following a year of rehab and recovery from his near-fatal overdose. We sought out to answer the questions:

  • What image repair strategies did Lamar Odom use to respond to the negative public relations incidents that occurred during his near-fatal overdose?
  • How effective were the image repair strategies that Lamar Odom used during his rehabilitation months after the near-fatal overdose?

In order to answer these fully, we analyzed and coded Lamar Odom’s statements in his UsWeekly interview as well as his The Doctors interview. These were coded according to Benoit’s image repair strategies to discover if it was: denial, reduction of offensiveness, evasion of responsibility, corrective action and mortification. The code sheet also delves deeper to choose the tactic employed for each strategy.

We also coded several articles in order to see the overall take-away from media coverage. This code sheet delved into whether each article was: a complete story or just referenced; hard news or just editorial; negative, positive, or neutral in tone; and front page or not front page story.

The total number of interviews coded on Lamar Odom’s end was 2. Total number of articles was 23.

We found that Odom used denial, evasion of responsibility and a minimal amount of reduction of offensiveness in his The Doctors interview. He also used corrective action in agreeing to enter a rehab program.

For his UsWeekly interview, Odom used denial primarily in repairing his image. The stark difference in strategies choses could have been the media outlet: The Doctors was filmed while UsWeekly was more traditional interview style.

For media coverage, most was not front page news. In addition, the good majority tone-wise was neutral or positive, with only 12% being negative. The table below breaks down the articles even further.

Screen Shot 2017-04-30 at 5.30.41 PM

Based on the information found, from coding Odom’s statements as well as articles surrounding the Lamar Odom controversy, we found Odom’s use of image repair strategies highly effective. Specifically, in cases of denial, publications would title their articles to be completely pro-Lamar. In such cases, they would usually be anti-Kardashian or at least trying to hold Kardashian accountable for some part of Odom’s downfall.

The UsWeekly story itself mainly mirrored statements of mortification, as it was titled “Lamar Odom Breaks His Silence: ‘Everything Was My Fault.’” In The Doctors interview, Odom best resonated with viewers when using mortification; however, he resonates more with the media and with publications using denial.

Los Angeles Lakers v Denver Nuggets
DENVER, CO – NOVEMBER 11: Lamar Odom #7 of the Los Angeles Lakers moves the ball against the Denver Nuggets on November 11, 2010 at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2010 NBAE (Photo by Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)

With both interviews, Odom’s use of image repair strategies was highly effective. Some future studies could include whether publications have more at stake in selling copies therefore either dramatically support or tear down a celebrity in a crisis. Another observation could be that he just more efficiently blended his strategies in The Doctors Interviews than in the UsWeekly interview.

The purpose of this research paper was to determine what image repair strategies Lamar Odom used following his drug overdose incident and if they were effective or not. This case was unique in that Odom was a famous athlete but also a reality-tv star. His publics were spread across a vast range of entertainment consumers. A huge limitation that we discovered while studying Odom was his condition. Media coverage was many times influenced by this rather than Odom’s silence toward his near-fatal overdose during the year following.

The media was on Odom’s side due to his near-death experience, and this helped his image repair strategies and tactics. to be accepted. Hopefully his rehab treatments are successful, and even now more and more media outlets are taking his side and rallying behind Lamar Odom for further recovery.


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