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Can Marv Albert Ever Rebound?

By Marc Fisher
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 26, 1997; Page C01

Marv Albert was silenced yesterday, but in a popular culture that relishes tales of redemption, the legendary announcer's trademark call of "Yesss!" may yet return.

Sports agents, network executives and industry analysts said last night that even after Albert's decision to plead guilty to a misdemeanor, ending his salacious sexual assault trial in Arlington Circuit Court, the sportscaster has a chance to restore his public credibility and resurrect his broadcast career.

NBC Sports sacked Albert yesterday; an hour later, he quit his job calling New York Knicks games for a cable channel.

"If there's the proper amount of contrition and some length of a sabbatical, there is the possibility of a return to sportscasting," said Jeffrey Pollack, publisher of Sports Business Daily. "Mike Tyson was convicted of rape, did time and was welcomed back to the boxing world. In Hollywood, Hugh Grant came back."

"Three, four, five years down the road, it is conceivable that Marv Albert will find his way back into the industry," said Ivan Blumberg, general counsel at ProServ, the District-based sports agency. "But his first priority has to be to get some counseling."

Some in the industry believe the 56-year-old Albert is utterly finished. Sportscasters, they say, are different from athletes, politicians and entertainers who have suffered through highly publicized scandals and gone on to prosper.

"If you're like Mike Tyson, the best in the world at a craft, you get a chance to mitigate the damage through superior performance," said Tom George, senior vice president of athlete marketing for Advantage International, the McLean company that represents many high-profile sports figures. "Marv Albert is who he is because of his platform with the Knicks. We don't have to have this guy."

Any attempt to define just which celebrities can survive scandal and which are permanently marked by the notoriety is destined to fail. The nation's record of forgiveness is pocked with contradictions. Some congressmen caught in extramarital affairs have left office; others have been reelected. Some Hollywood stars who show themselves to be cads or worse shrug off the bad press; others are never seen again.

"There's a certain amount of this type of activity that is sort of titillating," George said. "But this crossed over and became repugnant. We all made office jokes about Marv, but then we heard the details and it started to make your skin crawl."

Nonetheless, veterans of scandal say it is possible to persuade the public to give you a second chance if you admit your wrongdoing to yourself.

"The first thing you feel is intense sadness and depression and inner-directed anger," said Dick Morris, the close adviser to President Clinton who was disgraced last year in a sex scandal involving toe-sucking at the Jefferson Hotel. "If you're lucky, you understand the need to change. If you're unlucky, you harden into a fortress of denial."

Morris, who sought treatment for a sexual disorder, said the public is willing to accept scandalized public figures "if the change happens inside you. It's a question of personal growth, not public rehabilitation."

Contrition is the key, Morris says, pointing to the difference in public perception between the much-admired Charles Colson, the Watergate crook turned prison reform evangelist, and the much-pitied Dan Rostenkowski, the powerful House Ways and Means Committee chairman who fell in a corruption scandal but never admitted a thing.

Once the public sees that the celebrity has admitted fault, paid a price and attempted change, "maybe you'll be accepted," Morris said. "We'll both find out."

Politicians caught in sex scandals used to go away quietly, but as mores have changed, elected officials increasingly seek to survive the storm sometimes with success. Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) was caught, pants unzipped, with a prostitute in his car on a public street, and was still reelected. Rep. Barney Frank's constituents did not hold it against the Massachusetts Democrat after he was found living with a male hustler.

The list of famous people who have revived their careers and restored their public standing after scandals grows like crabgrass, from former American University president Richard Berendzen, who came back from making lewd phone calls to a day-care center, to Jerry Springer, the former mayor of Cincinnati whose well-publicized visits to a prostitute did not damage his future as a tabloid TV chat show host.

Already, athletes and sportscasters are being required to agree to morals clauses in their contracts. Some of the clauses kick in only if the employee is convicted of a felony or a morals charge; others are far broader, permitting companies to jettison anyone who damages the corporate image.

That may save the company, but the offender even if he eventually wins back public acceptance is sentenced to be the butt of jokes for many years, if not the rest of his life.

Marion Barry won reelection as District mayor but remains an easy target for late-night comedians. Woody Allen continues to make movies but has arguably lost forever the sympathy of at least many of his female fans.

Alternatively, analysts said, if Albert wants to capitalize on his notoriety, the O.J. Simpson trial proved there is no end to the market for that sort of business. Even if there is "zero corporate money out there" for Albert now, "there's a book in it," George said. "There might even be a movie."

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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