Make press conferences great again!

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Photo: Noah Graham NBAE/Getty Images

By: Ben Leadholm

(Editor’s note: this was written for my sports journalism class during the summer of 2016)

Super Bowl XLIX media day. Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch steps up to the podium.

Lynch: “When do my time start? Oh it started? Well then let me start. Hey, I’m just here so I don’t get fined so y’all can sit here and ask me all the questions you want to. I’m going to answer with the same answers. So y’all can shoot if y’all please.”

Reporter question:

Lynch: “I’m here so I won’t get fined.”

Reporter question:

Lynch: “I’m here so I won’t get fined.”

Reporter question:

Lynch: I’m here so I won’t get fined.”

Rinse and repeat.

“I’m just here, so I won’t get fined.” This infamous quote by former Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch shows just what is wrong with sports press conferences today. So many times today athletes, like Lynch, are failing to hold up their end of their contractual bargain. Leagues, like the National Football League and the National Basketball Association have requirements for athletes and coaches requiring them to speak with the media and Major League Baseball requires teams to open its clubhouses before and after each game, but players are not forced to speak to reporters. Look, I get it, they don’t want to talk to the media. Well, sorry, we all have things we don’t want to do, but we still do it. Athletes are paid a lot of money and by not following the agreement they signed, they are coming off as childish and unprofessional.

Lynch, “speaking” at Super Bowl media day uttered this phrase more than 20 times, but was able to avoid being fined by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. However, Lynch, who was making $12 million a year at the time, was able to capitalize off of his stubbornness by trademarking his phrase and selling it on T-shirts for $34 a pop. In fact, Lynch has four trademarked phrases from quotes he made during interviews.

Slightly better than Lynch’s “I’m just here, so I won’t get fined,” are athletes that leave press conferences early because they don’t like the questions being asked, they don’t feel like being there, etc. Example: Cam Newton’s Super Bowl postgame press conference. Granted, this was after Newton arguably lost the biggest game of his career, but the NFL MVP cannot just get up and leave the press conference. Five-time MVP Peyton Manning lost the Super Bowl twice, but he never got up and left in a tantrum. In fact, Newton, Lynch and other NFL players could learn a thing or two from Manning.

After parting ways with the Colts, Manning called many local reporters to thank them for their coverage over the years. “In the few times I interacted with Peyton, he was a true professional. He looked you in the eye and answered the question,” Scott Agness, editor of vigilantsports.com said. “Manning took the time to know the names of every media member that was around on a regular basis. Nothing he had to do but something Peyton Manning just does. He’s way above the standard.

Another reporter, Phillip B. Wilson, formerly of the Indianapolis Star believes that Manning’s dealings with the media is the gold standard.

No athlete has ever been more clever [sic] at dealing with the media. Again, he never did anything halfway,” Wilson said. “Even after he went to Denver, when we did a conference call with him a year later, he answered questions on the phone and included many of our names, including mine.”

These first two situations of poor press conference etiquette are real no-no’s. My next complaint might be more of a personal pet peeve, but I think it can be a real issue in sports media: athlete’s children.  

Riley Curry became America’s sweetheart last year during the NBA playoffs when her father, Steph Curry and his Golden State Warriors captured the NBA championship. Riley Curry first gained her fame during the Western Conference finals game one postgame press conference.

“Once she started laughing, after the first question when she heard my voice in the microphone, I knew it was going to be downhill,” Steph Curry said in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle. “I thought she was going to fall off the stage, once she started going underneath the table. I’m trying to answer questions and feel around, make sure she’s within arm’s reach.”

My problem with this is that children can be distracting: they can’t sit still, they need attention and like most athletes, they just don’t want to be there. Children distract their athlete parents and the media that are trying to do their jobs. In some instances, it seems almost like athletes are using their children to take the attention off of themselves or to distract the media.

After winning the 2016 NBA championship, LeBron James brought his three children to the postgame press conference. James held his youngest daughter in his arms. You could tell James was distracted, having to pause in the middle of an answer to a question to tell her that he was almost done. I understand that players want to spend time with their families, especially after winning a championship, but do you honestly think that in five or ten years James’ kids are going to say, “remember how much fun we had at that postgame press conference after we won the championship?” Of course not. Leave the kids out of the press conference. You don’t see doctors bringing their kids to appointments or firefighters bringing their kids to a fire? It would be unprofessional. So why should athletes?   

I’m not saying press conferences have to be boring or not fun. In fact, I think athletes with great personalities or that are open when answering questions, like Draymond Green, David Ortiz and Manning are entertaining and are good for their respective sports. Players don’t have to like the media, but they need to find a common ground and perform their contractual duties. At the end of the day, it’s just two different professions doing their job to the best of their abilities. Often times, players are just getting as much benefit, in regards to publicity [think endorsements and shoe sales], as the media does.

Carlos Beltran, of the Texas Rangers, understands the relationship between athletes and the media.

“You always have to be professional,” Beltran said in an interview with Newsday. “I have to be professional with you, but at the same time, you to be professional with me. It’s got to be a two-way street.”

If we can have more athletes treat the media like Carlos Beltran and Peyton Manning have, then we can truly make press conferences great again!

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Lyons, Stowers help propel Mallards to victory, sweep Bullfrogs

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The Duck Pond. Image: Ben Leadholm

By: Ben Leadholm

MADISON, Wis.—Magic was in the air as the Madison Mallards celebrated Harry Potter Day at the Duck Pond, after an apparent blowout following the first inning became quite the nail biter, as the Mallards held on to beat the Green Bay Bullfrogs 8-5 Sunday afternoon.

The Mallards (35-23 overall) jumped on Green Bay stating pitcher Jacob Padilla, who was making his season debut for the Bullfrogs, for six first-inning runs. Shortstop Nico Hoerner and second baseman Matt McCann started the inning with back-to-back singles. After a sacrifice bunt, Nelson Maldonado slapped an RBI triple off the center field wall, scoring Hoerner and McCann. Right fielder Zach Jarrett followed with an RBI single of his own, scoring Maldonado and giving the Mallards a quick 3-0 lead. Following a run-scoring sacrifice, Jesse Medrano followed with a two run single, extending the lead to 6-0 and forcing Padilla out of the game after only 2/3 of an inning.

“All our guys were on time hitting the ball on the barrel,” Medrano said about his team’s success in the first inning. “We had like six hits and six runs, just sticking to the fundamentals and picking each other up when we were in scoring position.”

Madison’s Alex Lyons (4.0 innings, five hits, two runs, three walks and two strikeouts) came out of the bullpen to make his first start of the season. He admitted he was experiencing some early nerves, but the quick offensive start helped calm them.

“Just a bit of butterflies, but once I got up on the mound they went away and I was ready to go,” Lyons said. “When the bats are going like that it gives a good confidence boost to go out there and know that your teammates are behind you.”

Lyons’ teammates appreciated his effort in his new role.

“Lyons is a good pitcher. I’m sure he could be a starter if he wanted to, but he’s just more valuable to us in the bullpen. Today he came out and gave us three or four solid innings of work,” Left fielder Josh Stowers said. “For him to not start all year and then come in and throw like that, that’s what we needed.”

“After having a few guys go down in unfortunate situations, having to leave, whatever it is, guys got to step up and he came out today and pitched really well for us. It’s also good when we play good defense behind him,” Medrano said.

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Image: Ben Leadholm

The Bullfrogs, however, would not go away quietly, scoring five unanswered runs to pull within a run at 6-5 after the fifth inning. Designated hitter Chris Botsoe provided the fireworks with his three-run home run to left field in the fifth inning.

Green Bay put runners on first and second after back-to-back walks in the seventh inning, but reliever Luke Shilling (W, 2.0 innings, one hit, zero runs, two walks and three strikeouts) was able to strike out Matthew Hoeg to get out of the jam.

Controversy clouded the eighth inning after Green Bay’s Austin Clemons was originally called out at first after a wild throw from the shortstop caused the first baseman to stretch in order to catch the ball. After Green Bay manager Darrell Handelsman argued with the first base umpire, the umpires gathered and reversed the call. However, four pitches later, Marcus Shoemaker hit into a slick 5-4-3 double play, causing him to slam his helmet in frustration.

Madison was held in check by the Bullfrogs bullpen, allowing only three hits following Padilla’s early exit. Pitcher Logan Elliot had a string of four straight strikeouts, all looking.

That bullpen dominance, however, would end in the bottom of the eighth inning. Center fielder Cameron Frost led off the inning with a double. Stowers then blasted a two-run home run to left field for two critical insurance runs.

“In the eighth inning before I went up to the plate, Donnie [manager Donnie Scott] told me to look for something to hit,” Stowers said. “The kid gave me a pitch I liked and I hit it out.”

“The kid gave me a pitch I liked and I hit it out.”

Reliever Mitch Vogrin picked up the two inning save and secured the series sweep for the Mallards.

The Mallards tallied 13 hits, led by Hoerner with three. Meanwhile, Green Bay had eight team hits.

With the Northwoods League regular season quickly coming to a close and a playoff berth on the line, the Mallards aren’t feeling the pressure.

“I think we’re ready,” Lyons said. “We know it’s time to buckle down and everybody knows the job they need to do to get this thing going and end up where we need to be.”

“Just keep with what’s working, getting runners in scoring position and getting them to cross home plate,” Medrano added. “Pitchers have been pitching well, pounding the strike zone and the defense has been sticking to the fundamentals and having fun out there.”

Stowers agrees with Medrano that the team is playing well together as a unit.

“We’re playing really good baseball right now. Our pitchers are throwing strikes and we’re hitting the ball really well,” Stowers said. “I think we’re going to be on a win streak from here on out, we’re going to make the playoffs and make a good run.”

Madison returns to action Monday morning for a home and home doubleheader with the Rockford Rivets. Game one begins at 11:35 a.m. at the Duck Pond and game two begins at 6:35 p.m. in Rockford, Illinois.

GAME NOTES:

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    The Harry Potter uniforms the Mallards wore. Image: Madison Mallards

    Kids had the opportunity for postgame autographs and to run the bases after the game, while getting high-fives from Mallards players.
  • During the postgame festivities, a couple got engaged on the pitcher’s mound.
  • The Mallards wore special Harry Potter jerseys, which were then raffled off for charity.
  • Sunday’s attendance was 6,750.
  • Game time was three hours and five minutes.

Schefter’s tweet brings ethics controversy

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Tweet from Adam Schefter

On July 4, 2015, New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul was involved in a significant fireworks accident. Pierre-Paul would eventually lose his index finger and the tip of his thumb on his right hand.

Rumors quickly spread throughout social media regarding the extent of the injury to the All-Pro’s hand, and whether or not his career was over.

The first real, concrete evidence (and controversy) of Pierre-Paul’s injury came when ESPN’s NFL Insider Adam Schefter tweeted out a photo of Pierre-Paul’s medical chart that showed that his index finger had been amputated.

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Jason Pierre-Paul (90) makes a tackle. Image: Sporting News

Pierre-Paul filed a lawsuit (has yet to be heard) against Schefter and ESPN claiming that his privacy was violated, claiming that Schefter “improperly obtained (Pierre-Paul’s) medical records from a hospital”, and then tweeted them out.

News organizations do not need to follow HIPPA rules. However, Florida statute 456.057(11) states that third parties who obtain medical information cannot disclose that information without the written permission of the patient or legal representatives.

Schefter, in an interview with Sports Illustrated, told Richard Deitsch that he never requested any images and that the image was sent to him. He also believed that the information shown in the image was not “sensitive” and that reporters report about these situations all the time.

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Adam Schefter. Image: ESPN Media Zone

“NFL reporters report on all kinds of medical information on a daily basis. That’s part of the job,” Schefter told Deitsch. “The only difference here was that there was a photo. It came to me unexpectedly, and it was used as part of the reporting, same as OTL, 20/20, Dateline NBC or 48 Hours would do.”

After Schefter’s tweet, many people were upset and considered it a breach of ethics to publish a medical chart. Schefter admitted that it’s a fair discussion.

“This is the part that I’ve struggled with because I’ve heard that questions raised and I’ve heard the criticisms. There’s no way not to consider the other point of view. But what I will say is this: My ethics, integrity and reputation are something I’ve worked as hard as possible to build and guard. In my 25-plus years of covering the league, I’ve consistently tried to act as responsibly and carefully as I can, and to not have anyone question my ethics. My job is to be as thorough and accurate as possible. In this case, as tough as the injury is for the player, I didn’t believe conveying the information about the unfortunate injury in words or a report caused additional harm. The information was going to come out soon. This was a very unique case, unlike many others. In trying to be thorough and accurate, we delivered that news as soon as possible with the supporting proof if it happened. To me, that’s just doing my job. But I am aware of the thoughtful discussion it generated. You think about it, you learn from it, and it becomes a part of your experience and thought process for if and when a similar difficult situation and decision should happen to arise again.”

“In my 25-plus years of covering the league, I’ve consistently tried to act as responsibly and carefully as I can, and to not have anyone question my ethics.”

Adam Schefter is one of the most trusted and influential reporters covering the NFL. I recall thinking when I first saw his tweet ‘how can he do this?’. Granted there really isn’t any sensitive information in the picture, but I feel that the chart is a very personal item and should not have been shared.

As mentioned, Schefter is one of the most trusted and respected reporters. Why not just tweet out that Pierre-Paul had his index finger amputated? If I had been in Schefter’s shoes, that is what I would have done. I also would have relied on my editors, fellow journalists and ESPN lawyers to make sure what I was doing was legal and ethical.

Schefter believes he should have done more research prior to tweeting the image.

“In hindsight I could and should have done even more here due to the sensitivity of the situation. We’ve got a great group of editors and production staff, and I could have leaned on them even more,” Schefter said. “ESPN has trusted me on any number of stories over the years, and granted me great latitude, fortunately. Sometimes in the fast-paced news world we live in, it’s easy to forget you should lean on the knowledge and experience of the people surrounding you. They’re always there for everything, but especially stories like this. On this one, there should have been even more discussion than there was due to the sensitivity of the story; that’s on me.”

“Sometimes in the fast-paced news world we live in, it’s easy to forget you should lean on the knowledge and experience of the people surrounding you.”

Lawsuit aside, this story brings up a good discussion about ethics. This is also a good reminder to take a step back when reporting and consider all possible outcomes and consequences. It’s also a reminder to lean on others (editors, lawyers, medical professionals, etc.) when dealing with sensitive stories.

Berardino exemplifies changing role of sports reporter

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Mike Berardino – Image from his Twitter profile

Mike Berardino is the beat writer covering the Minnesota Twins for the St. Paul Pioneer Press. He is one of my favorite Twins reporters for a couple of reasons. First, he does a great job of writing short stories or blog posts about the players off the field. Recently, Berardino wrote a piece about a group of Twins players inviting Byung Ho Park, the newest member of the Twins, over to watch ‘The Bachelor’. While some readers might complain that the story is not news, I like the fact that he is showing the players’ personality and giving readers a different perspective of their favorite team.

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The second thing that I like about Berardino is how active and engaging he is on Twitter. He constantly responds to fans questions and goes above and beyond in his live-tweeting of games or press conferences. In our 24/7 online media-driven world, it is incredibly important to self-promote yourself and your work, and Berardino does a great job of this through Twitter. For me, to differentiate my work so that it stands out on its own, I just need to be myself, tell the stories that need to be told, while still listening to my audiences’ needs.

Finally, I like how Berardino almost paints a picture in describing a situation in a game, like in this piece describing a home run. It is easy to just write what happened, but there is so much more that happens on a particular play that the reader might not have had the opportunity to witness. This is something that I can definitely incorporate into my own writing, especially as the soft ball beat writer for The Daily Cardinal. At the same time, Berardino knows when getting the information out is just as important, such as in this piece. Knowing when to add some “spice” to a story and when to just get the information out is an important skill for any journalist to master.