In any walk of life, it’s not always easy to regain one’s bearings after the heat of a particularly demanding event. Now imagine being 18-22 years old, with dozens of reporters grabbing you shortly after a nationally televised game ends to ask you what your thoughts are about what just unfolded. It would be so easy to let the moment get the best of you, but rarely does a student athlete say something so off base post-game in this day and age. This is a testament to their maturity level and seasoning when it comes to dealing with the press.
Why are student athletes so prepared now when it comes to interactions with the general public? For starters, one reason could be that each player sees themselves as their own individual brand, rather than a replaceable cog in a university driven machine. In theory, representing their university in a positive light should be motivation enough for anyone to craft answers tactfully and responsibly, but when each player realizes that the way they respond could make or break their reputations moving forward, they’re more willing to take media interaction seriously.
“You hear it a lot of times coming from your school and you see players make mistakes. It’s great seeing how you can improve your brand and yourself when it comes to the media,” former University of Oklahoma linebacker Travis Lewis opined. Via Coachad.com
It’s also not uncommon for universities to bring in outside communications and consulting firms to work with players and coaches via simulated interview practice and recorded film sessions to discuss do’s and dont’s of public speaking. One such agency is MVP Sports Media Training, who has collaborated with Purdue University, Gonzaga University, Temple University, and many other programs throughout the last couple of decades according to their website. Kevin Long, MVP’s president, has been in the crisis communications and branding realm for nearly thirty years, and takes pride in giving athletes the tools they need to be successful in front of a microphone and camera.
“We try to teach them the things you need to look out for and avoid, and to stop and think before you go into an interview,” Long outlined. “ We practice avoiding bad situations and avoiding crutch phrases.” Via ESPN.com
Of course in 2021, it isn’t just the spoken word that media and fans pay attention to on a regular basis. Posts on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and various other social media sites are viewed by thousands or even millions of people, and it doesn’t take long for a statement to go viral. Companies like Opendorse partner with universities and their athletes in order to address the impact and reach social media has, and has worked with the University of Nebraska in the past to this end.
Many times, it’s the athletes in the revenue generating sports like basketball and football who get all the attention and have the largest fan bases, but the University of Nebraska did not want to limit the scope of personal branding to their most popular athletes. This was one reason they decided to partner with the social media agency.
“We wanted to find a way that benefits all student-athletes,” senior deputy athletic director Garrett Klassy stated. “This is something that will benefit the young men and women in our programs for the rest of their lives.” Via FiveThirtyEight
Regardless of the medium, it seems clear that student athletes today should be better equipped than ever to handle discourse with the public, but should still exercise good judgment and caution considering how accessible they are in this age.