A Positive Image
Starts With Media Training
By JEFF WASHBURN
During a trip to Colombia while working for Indiana Congressman Dan Burton, West Lafayette's Kevin Long was eating dinner and watching ESPN's SportsCenter when NBA star Kevin Garnett appeared on the screen."I've got guns and ammunition at my home," Garnett told the interviewer.
As ESPN announcers spoke about Garnett's comments, Long thought that if he could teach Latin American military and law enforcement officials to handle media in a language he doesn't speak -- his job while working for Burton -- he certainly could do that with United States athletes.
"I always had been looking for a way to get into sports," Long said. "This seemed like a great way to do it. I came home and did the research."
Today, Long, a Muncie native who attended Delta High School with Purdue men's basketball coach Matt Painter, is president of MVP Sports Media Training.
Long, 36, travels from coast to coast helping amateur, college and professional athletes be comfortable, confident and in control when speaking with the media.
In addition to Painter's Purdue basketball teams, Long's list of clients includes Oregon State's two-time NCAA champion baseball team, and men's basketball teams at Arkansas, George Mason, Colorado State and the Air Force Academy.
Other clients include the Indy Car Racing League, the United States Synchronized Swimming Team and the Coast Guard Academy.
While Long would not reveal his fee, he charges per team. His sessions include mock interviews, which are cut onto DVDs so that athletes may observe their interview performances.
Long recently made a presentation about media training to the National Football League and hopes to begin working with NFL franchises.
"We want to make athletes comfortable with the process so that they understand reporters are just doing their jobs," Long said. "We try to empower them so that the athlete understands that he or she is in control of the interview."
Painter, now in his third season as Purdue's head coach, said the Boilermakers benefited from their session with Long.
"There is no question that any time you can help student-athletes get any type of media training, it's great," Painter said. "It's something they have to be comfortable with, and you only become comfortable through experience.
"Any time you can have that mock setup to get interviewed and talk with the media and have training on what to say and how to handle certain questions, that really helps."
Kip Carlson, Oregon State's baseball sports information director, said 2007 standout pitcher Mike Stutes, who was drafted in June by the St. Louis Cardinals, became a much better interview after going through Long's training last fall.
"Mike was much more focused at this year's College World Series than he was last year," Carlson said.
Steve Fenk, Oregon State's assistant athletic director for communications, brought Long to Corvallis last fall to work with high-profile athletes in several sports.
"The biggest thing is that it helped our student-athletes feel more comfortable being on camera and talking to print media," Fenk said.
"All schools in the Pac-10 have someone like Kevin come in. We were very pleased. It is a good program."
Long, a year older than high school pal Painter, calls himself a frustrated high school baseball player who always has been a sports fan.
He enrolled at Purdue in 1988, majoring in political science and history and minoring in English. After his sophomore year, Long spent the summer as an intern in Sen. Dan Coates' office.
That fall, he spent 4 1/2 months interning in Vice President Dan Quayle's press office.
After earning a Purdue bachelor's degree in December 1992, Long moved to Washington, D.C., seeking employment. He landed a staff assistant's job with Burton.
Five months later, Long became the youngest press secretary (22) on Capital Hill, a position he held for two years.
When Burton became chairman of the government reform committee, Long moved over to work on that staff.
Long was in charge of counter-narcotics policy. He traveled extensively, observing the government's activities in the war on drugs. He acted as a de-facto press aide on those trips, continuing to do foreign affairs media work for Burton.
He left the post in January 2003, when a new committee chairman replaced the staff. Long then started a communications firm, securing sub-contracts with the department of defense.
Soon, he found himself in Colombia and Afghanistan doing media training and strategic communications with military and law enforcement personnel. He even taught drug czars how to deal with the media.
After seeing Garnett talk about guns in his home, Long returned to the United States to launch a sports-media business in March 2004.
While Long has enjoyed almost every instruction session, he especially was thrilled to work with George Mason's 2006 Final Four team.
"It was an incredible experience and a real tribute to (coach) Jim Larranaga and the type player he recruits," Long said.
While athletes like golfer Tiger Woods and shortstop Derek Jeter are poised and accomplished during interviews, Long said many high-profile athletes would benefit from media training.
"I don't think it's an accident (Woods and Jeter) are the way they are," Long said. "They are terrific at it, but they have done weeks of this type of training. They are that good for a reason."