I was recently asked to comment on the Ben Stokes saga by the BBC - one point which we discussed (although not broadcast) was how Stokes can best handle the potential fallout in terms of managing his reputation.
The background to this inherently newsworthy piece has been rehashed throughout the media, with various theories, explanations, defences and criticisms of Stokes. At the outset, it is worth stating that he was released without charge. He was arrested on suspicion of causing actual bodily harm reportedly following a lengthy drinking session in Bristol towards the end of September.
The timing could hardly have been worse. The alleged altercation took place a few hours before the Ashes' squad was announced, throwing the ECB's preparations into total disarray. He was originally included in the squad as vice-captain as the Director of England Cricket Andrew Strauss stressed that the selectors chose 'based on form and fitness'. The ECB confirmed that he would not travel to Australia and Strauss explained: 'We have spoken to Ben and assured him that our decision in no way prejudges the outcome of the ongoing Police investigation or Cricket Discipline Commission process, as can be seen by the award of Central Contracts'.
A mere few days before the incident, Stokes gave an unfortunately timed interview to the Times where he was quizzed about his perceived temper and anger issues. At one point in the article, Stokes is quoted as saying: 'There's adrenaline there, but I'd never get close to punching someone...'.
What should Stokes be doing?
First, take legal advice from a criminal lawyer. Second, if his budget can stretch to it, also see a reputation management / media lawyer and instruct a decent PR firm to handle the aftermath and help rebuild his reputation off the field.
It's been widely reported that Stokes apologised to the ECB hours after the incident. Stokes acted sensibly by apologising swiftly, in my opinion. The timing of an apology can affect how genuine it appears to be. If it comes after weeks or months of public pressure for example, it likely will not be perceived as voluntary or sincere.
He needs to maintain a low profile and let his lawyers justify their paycheques. He is limited in terms of what he can say publicly at this time as the police are still investigating. However, this does not stop his team putting together a detailed press release for when the appropriate time comes. He also needs a coherent and consistent...