College Athletics Clips Covers St. Joe's Media Training

Talking effectively to the media comes naturally to very few athletes; and for the rest, media training should be a required course

By Nick Infante, Clips Editor


LIKE MOST PEOPLE IN THE CIVILIZED WESTERN WORLD,
my attention was transfixed for the several months of the Duke LAX case. That sordid odyssey deteriorated daily, hop-scotching from one media-blasted miscue to the next.

I spoke with dozens of media, PR and communications experts about the Duke crisis, and the near unanimous opinion was that the public statements on all sides could have been handled much better than they were.

One immediate offshoot from the Duke crisis was a renewed interest in the cottage industry variously known as sports media training, crisis management or strategic communications. Shell-shocked university administrations and athletic departments observed the Duke mess, realizing that they could be saddled with a similar calamity at any time.

Additionally, most schools are now streaming almost every sport live on the internet, and many conferences are investing in their own 24/7 sports channels, where they will be showing dozens and dozens of non-revenue sporting events. This means that not only will football and basketball players be seen and heard from, but now too may also the women's field hockey, soccer and track teams get exposed to media attention. It only takes one slip-up to damage the reputation of a team, program, athletic department and even school.

An ounce of prevention equals a pound of cure?

Among the proactive steps many schools have taken has been to embrace media training for presidents, ADs, coaches, administrators and players on how to deal with the media in crises and every day situations.

Ever since that Duke maelstrom, the Clips Truth Squad has had a strong desire to sit in on a media training session. I got my chance when Kevin Long of MVP Sports Media Training invited me to one of his sessions at Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia, less than two hours from the Clips Mothership.


HEREWITH MY REPORT
. . . .

The training started at the "Teletorium" (a large amphitheater - that's the "torium" part with state-of-the-art electronics - that's the "tele" part) in Saint Joseph's business school. St. Joe's Assistant AD/Communications Marie Wozniak took charge, getting everyone settled. "Everyone" was made up of the men's and women's basketball teams, the softball team, various athletic department persons and business students who happened to be in the Teletorium. And there, way back (and up) there at the top row, was Saint Joseph's AD Don Dijulia.

Marie took the podium, proceeded to quiet the gathered assemblage, and she welcomed Kevin Long of MVP Sports Media Training to Saint Joseph's.

Kevin informed the audience of his rich media background; a decade as an overseas congressional communications aide, three years as an overseas Department of Defense communications contractor including stints in Colombia and Afghanistan and several years specializing in media training and strategic communications for university athletic departments.

Kevin launched into an informative and entertaining slide presentation from which he liberally ad-libbed, tangented and anecdoted. Included in the presentation were about a dozen video clips of infamous sports media meltdowns (including the recent Oklahoma State football coach tirade - in which Kevin was careful to point out he believed the message was appropriate but the delivery time and place could have been better handled privately, then an Ozzie Guillen profanity-laden call-in to a sports talk show and the infamous Kellen Winslow "I'm a soldier" ridiculousness).

With a sure and steady presentation style, Kevin was quite effective because he preached the basics: common sense, keeping cool, staying on topic, removing emotion, etc.

He keyed in on topics to avoid discussing with the media: race, religion, sexual orientation and sexual harassment. Similarly, he talked about the five c's to avoid: crime, controversy, crisis, conflict and catastrophe.

Kevin also addressed the realm of MySpace and Facebook, urging the audience to be especially careful about what they post and allow to be posted on their social networking sites. Using recent events to illustrate his point, he reminded them that the internet is a public domain and that reporters and others regularly troll these sites for dirt to use against them not only now, but in the future. He repeatedly warned of dangers that could follow them into their post-athletic careers.

Kevin also spoke about being careful speaking in class and every day situations, even when you think you are only talking to your friends. You never know who is sitting next to you or two rows back. If a reporter from the student newspaper overhears your comments, they are fair game to be printed in the paper.

Conversely, Kevin reminded the young athletes that there was plenty that they should talk about with the media, especially on-field happenings, conference competition, NCAA hopes, etc. He also urged the athletes to practice the five b's: be interesting, be nice, be friendly, be positive, be energetic.

I made it a point to turn around several times during the presentation to scan the faces of the audience. They were definitely engaged with Kevin, and seemingly quite interested in hearing what he had to say.

Kevin stressed not only the importance of what you communicate, but also body language and tone of voice.

Reminding the audience that there are a few energetic and sneaky media types out there who ask provocative and tricky questions, Kevin said (in a bunch of different ways) that the athletes don't have to answer all questions posed to them. I thought one of the funniest tactics was to make believe you didn't hear the question. Kevin showed a video clip of a wily athlete faking that he didn't hear the same question thrice in a row.


AFTER THE TELETORIUM SESSION,
we adjourned to the nearby Alumni Memorial Fieldhouse. AD Don Dijulia proudly informed me that the passion of Hawk fans was such that Alumni Memorial Fieldhouse was recognized by Sports Illustrated in 2003 as one of "The 100 Things You Have to Do Before You Graduate."

Kevin had set up a mock interview situation in the Fieldhouse press room and he did one-on-ones with several of the star players from each team. As I observed Kevin's style in these interviews, it became apparent that he is a very skilled practitioner of the communication arts. He would lull the players into a sense of security and then - about a dozen questions in - he'd drop a bomb. In this case, the "bomb" was trying to get the player to comment about a teammate stealing CDs from a Wal-Mart. (made-up in this case, yet a plausible scenario).

With dogged perseverance, Kevin grilled the athletes repeatedly to get them to say something - anything - about the sticky-fingered teammate. The several players I observed managed to pass on all the questions about the CD theft.

Similarly, Kevin tried to engage the players in making judgments or remarks about teammates. One of the basketball players simply answered in a drone monotone (repeatedly), "Coach always makes the right decisions."

Clearly, the St. Joe's athletes are smart cookies, and they absorbed Kevin's message from the Teletorium session earlier in the day. One female basketball player even said she probably would have answered that question differently if she hadn't listened to the earlier session.


MY TAKEAWAY
from the media training session was that it is a very necessary and valuable part of creating and maintaining good teams and good athletic departments. The real-world practicality and the learning-by-doing nature of the MVP Sports Media Training approach have been effectively fine-tuned to resonate with 18-19-20 year old athletes, many who have never had a microphone thrust in their face.

Thumbs up for media training.

This is an eyewitness report written by Clips Editor Nick Infante, emanating from a visit to the City of Brotherly Love on 10-9-07. No names have been changed to protect the innocent - or guilty.

 

For more, click here