Sometimes I’m amused when somebody on the phone or calling into a radio show tells me that we’re not asking hard enough questions of our sports interview subjects. (I also get calls telling me to lay off.)
Covering professional and college sports means two completely different environments when dealing with players, coaches and the other media involved. College athletes are more eager, more honest and haven’t had the enthusiasm coached out of them when it comes to talking with the media. That means usually better answers but it might take some time getting that answer out of them.
The coaches are a little less wary of the media in college. Part of that comes from their tenure and from the knowledge that how they’re portrayed to the public can directly effect recruiting, fund raising and the whole perception of the program. The coaches in college are also less critical of their players, and rightly so.
There’s also a comfort level for college coaches among the media. You’d be amazed how many Florida grads/fans are in the media group covering the Gators. Same thing in Tallahassee for FSU. It’s usually a younger group and part of a pack mentality that exists among just about all media these days as well.
I’ve always thought that the key to getting good answers is asking good questions. Asking a coach or player to “talk about” anything is stupid. “Talk about your tight ends,” isn’t a question. “Are the tight ends fulfilling your expectations, blocking downfield and getting open regularly?” is a question. And that usually gets a decent answer.
Covering professional sports is a different animal. The players are coached to not give information to the media, the coaches are cynical and tight-lipped and the media horde is older, more cynical and skeptical (sometimes with good reason) and usually with an agenda.
Tuesday and Wednesday of this week were good examples in Gainesville and in Jacksonville. Tony Joiner’s arrest on a felony burglary charge was dealt with directly by Florida Coach Urban Meyer. Meyer said he was disappointed and admitted it was a distraction. “He won’t suit up as long as he has a felony charge against him,” Meyer said after practice.
There were some direct questions asked of the Gators head coach and he gave direct answers. Not a lot of beating around the bush or hemming and hawing. That’s not always the case, but in this instance, it seems like we’re getting the truth and the situation is being dealt with.
Wednesday in Jacksonville was a little different story. It was the first time the team met with the media since the Khalif Barnes incident came to light. Barnes had a well-publicized scrape with the law last year and last Wednesday left the scene of a one-car accident at 6:30 in the morning. Barnes said he was on his way to treatment at the stadium and fell asleep at the wheel. That could be a true story, or it could be false. And that’s the problem.
Jack Del Rio said he didn’t want to discuss it, that it had already been well reported and well documented. I asked him if it was customary for a player to be headed to treatment on a Saturday morning on the bye week and he said, “With Khalif’s injury he would have been required to report for treatment twice a day, every day, regardless of the day.” Then made it clear he wasn’t going to answer any more questions about it. Still, Cole Pepper asked, “In light of the recent moves by the commissioner’s office, would you suspect that Barnes might be suspended and unable to play this week?” Jack didn’t like that, but said, “I don’t think the commissioner’s office gets involved in citations but I also don’t think there is anything that would keep Khalif from being available to us this week. Now, does anybody want to talk about Kansas City?”
It’s a silly way to act, especially when it’s a developing story. Stop trying to manage the information. Just get it out there, no matter how good or bad it is and do the right thing. If he’s out of line, suspend him, fine him, or cut him. If Barnes has a problem, perhaps this is the situation that brings it to light and he can get some help before he hurts himself or someone else.
The public is getting very tired of misbehaving athletes and the slack they’ve been cut in the past. Barnes knows this, so does Del Rio and so do his teammates. Fred Taylor said it best, “If he’s gotten into trouble, he needs to use better judgment than that for himself and for his teammates. Bottom line.”