Almost every college and professional team provides players and coaches with media training on the do’s and don’ts in a 24/7 media world. The wisdom delivered usually makes perfect sense: Say the right things, smile, don’t provide bulletin-board material, be humble, don’t post inappropriate remarks or compromising photos.
Then real life happens, including talking to the media after a tough loss or thinking it’s a good idea to tweet under the influence of alcohol.
Some people instinctively understand the role and value of media. Others fight it—and almost always lose.
Dealing with the media is 99% commonsense and 1% eye contact. Here’s my short guide to dealing effectively with the media.
Connie Mack, who played and managed MLB for nearly 70 years (starting in 1882!) understood the media’s value. Said Mack, “When I entered the game, sports received only a few lines as news. These few lines extended into columns and pages. In ratio the crowds in our ball parks grew and grew and grew…The professional sporting world was created and is being kept alive by the services extended by the press.”
Mack’s quote should be posted in every locker room to remind athletes and coaches why the media is important.
If you’re an athlete or a coach, you should understand the bargain: When your team loses or you do not perform up to expectations (however unreasonable), you will be asked tough questions and then probably criticized.
If you understand how the game is played, dealing with the media is not so bad—and it can actually be fun. No doubt you will say things you regret or wished you had said better. But that’s life.
Recently, Red Sox pitcher Josh Beckett missed a start due to injury. That did not stop him from playing golf the day before. When Beckett was asked why he played, Beckett said, “We get 18 off days a year. I think we deserve a little time for ourselves.”
The media and fans do not want to hear about the mental welfare of highly-compensated athletes, even if Junior Seau’s recent suicide should give us all pause. Becket’s comment invites backlash: Beckett is paid $17,000,000 to pitch every 5th game. Doesn’t he have enough time to himself? If he’s unable to take the mound, he certainly should not be playing golf.
The Wall Street Journal’s Jason Gay used Beckett’s comments as inspiration to write, “The 26 Things Pro Athletes Shouldn’t Say.”
[h3]My four favorites:[/h3]
“1. Don’t complain about your salary. Never ever. Even if it’s something pathetic, like $11 million a year.”
“2. Absolutely don’t break down how easy it is to spend $11 million. It’s crazy, but you would be SHOCKED by how few regular people hire $400-per-hour archery instructors for their nannies.”
“22. Don’t complain about another player on your team hogging all the attention. That envy will tear apart a locker room.”
“26. Win. Then you can say whatever you want.”
All good advice, even if it’s slightly over the top.
Bottom line: If you’re prone to not winning 100% of your games, you need to watch what you say. You also need commonsense.
Here are my [h2]Top Ten Tips for Dealing with the Media:[/h2]
1. Be personal
Make eye contact. Call reporters by their first name. Be friendly even when they’re not interviewing you.
2. Be prepared
Think about what you want to say beforehand. For postgame interviews, take a minute to collect your thoughts. For feature stories, outline key points in your mind or on paper.
3. Be professional and respectful
Show up on time for scheduled interviews. Understand the writer’s job is to report good and bad. Don’t take what they say personally.
4. Be engaging
Give thoughtful answers. Appropriate humor is welcome. No ethnic, gender or religious slurs or insults. Give concise answers.
5. Be accommodating
Befriend the media. They are your ally—or your worst enemy.
6. Live by the “Locker room code”
What happens in the locker room should stay in the locker room. Don’t air your dirty laundry in public by throwing coaches and teammates “under the bus.” (On a related note: Wherever possible, avoid clichés!)
7. Know how and when to say, “no comment”
It’s OK to courteously not comment on something you’re asked. As Plato once said, “Wise men speak because they have something to say; fools because they have to say something.”
8. Do not lie or mislead
If you’re asked a question you’re not prepared to answer, speak the truth or not at all. The lie is often bigger than the original misdeed.
9. Avoid off the record
Don’t hide behind anonymity. Embrace the new reality that there are no secrets. Eventually, everything comes out.
10. Act like this is fun
After all, it’s still just a game!
Social media sites like twitter and Facebook add new problems—and opportunities—for athletes and coaches. Smart athletes use social media to connect with fans in unique ways. A few use twitter and Facebook to demonstrate ignorance, which ultimately drives fans away.
My grandfather often gave me profound, yet simple advice. My favorite thing he would say: “You know right. You know wrong. Do right.”
About Marc Isenberg
Marc Isenberg is a nationally-recognized athlete advocate for high school, college and pro athletes. A national columnist for Basketball Times, Marc is a frequent speaker at elite basketball camps and athletic programs and teams, including UCLA, RbkU and the Orlando Magic. In 2012, Marc, with Nolan Smith of the Portland Trail Blazers, founded Hoops Family , an organization devoted to educating and mentoring basketball players—and advocating on their behalf.
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