I haven’t written to you in quite awhile, since you were first hired. I offered some advice in this space at that time, in the spirit of helpfulness and welcome.
It’s in that same spirit that I write today. I think you’re doing a good job at K-State, and I want you to succeed. I’m a K-State fan and a Manhattan lifer.
I’m also a career journalist. I haven’t been around the Vanier Complex much lately, but I’ve spent my share of time at press conferences there, interviewing three of your predecessors and the players over the years.
And so I cringed when I saw the headlines and watched the video of your appeal to reporters earlier this week to be positive in their treatment of today’s players. I thought it set up a false narrative, and one that was likely to backfire on you.
The false narrative is this: Reporters pose pointed questions and then write stories that make the players look bad. Or, perhaps, write opinion columns (like this one) in which they criticize players. And that negative vibe makes players play worse, and so the losing feeds on itself.
Thing is, that just doesn’t happen, particularly not here. As you know, the journalists who routinely cover K-State are not a rough bunch. They’re solid professionals who ask the important questions, but they are universally polite and even deferential. Never once have I observed a journalist really zinging a K-State player with tough questions. And what they end up publishing is simply straight-ahead journalism.
The thing about sports journalism, though, is that the framework is entirely determined by the outcome of the last game. Win, and the framework is about winning. Lose? Whelp, that’s the story. Sorry. It’s just reality.
You and I both know how artificial that can seem. The line between winning and losing is razor-thin, and so the fact that one play went one way makes the story about virtue and perseverance and determination. That one play goes the other way and the framework of the story is: “Gee, coach, how do you keep the team’s morale up?”
But again, that is what it is, and that’s what it always will be.
The problem, if there is one, is not with the reporters who cover the team. They’re doing what they’ve always done. The problem is with the blowhards on social media, the people who tweet or post that the players are awful, the coaches are idiots and the athletic director should be fired. That’s what people do when you lose some games. Win those games? The players are conquering heroes, the coaches are tactical and motivational geniuses, and, for the love of God, give them a raise or else they’ll all leave for LSU!
So your message to reporters was directed to the wrong audience. And while the local folks covering the team will take it in the friendly manner that you intended it, you’re going to catch some flak for it nationally. It will look like you’re asking the news media to gloss over the fact that your team has lost eight league games in a row, as if your request is more about protecting yourself than the players. I’ll bet Saturday’s broadcast from Lubbock mentions it.
Seems to me you need to fix that perception, and the only way to do that is to clarify what you just said. And ultimately, to just back away from it entirely. Because the real audience for that message will never, ever listen.
I agree with you, by the way, that young people — and people in general — respond better to positive reinforcement and coaching than they do yelling and criticism. But you’re never going to get the Twitter cheap-shot artists to be nearly as polite and deferential as the professional journalists who cover the team, and so you might as well give up trying.