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The Answers Aren’t the Problem, the Questions Are

It can be tough to get famous people to address criticism they are facing. The famous usually have advisors, and those advisors do things like explain to famous people how best to avoid addressing criticism they may be facing.

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Phil Mickelson

Questions are among the best tools a media member has. During Phil Mickelson’s press conference on Monday, questions were the only tools available to dig into the primary character of what has become a full-blown rift in the world of professional golf.

Mickelson was uncomfortable. He was testy and he clearly did not like it when people asked him multiple questions. But people have spent all week dissecting Mickelson’s answers or his lack thereof, so I’m going to look at the questions that were lobbed at Lefty. I’m not doing this to criticize anyone in particular, but with an eye toward seeing what we can learn collectively. We’re going to start with something that I’ve always struggled with: talking too much

I – Rambling

One surefire way to take all the urgency out of a question is to spend an hour getting to it. In the case of Christine Brennan of USA Today, she took thirty seconds explaining the topic for her question:

Q: Phil, Christine Brennan. Hi there. As you know, you’ve been criticized by many people as you referred to. New York Post, Brian Wacker reported that the 9/11 families sent you and others a letter alluding of course to Osama bin Laden and the 15 of 19 hijackers that the Saudis, of course, sent, and that they say now you a partner with them, and you appear to be pleased in your business with them. Terry Strata is the person, of course, who wrote this letter and her husband got on the plane in Boston that flew into the World Trade Center. Umm, and they say that the deaths of your fellow Americans …”

Phil: “No, I’ve read all that. Is there a question in there?”

Q: Yes, there is. How do you explain to them — not to us — but to them, what you’ve decided to do.

Let’s pause right there before we get to Mickelson’s answer. The subject is undeniably important, and Brennan wants him to reconcile his decision to play — and profit from — LIV Golf with these concerns. Does her excruciating attention to detail make that more likely?

Phil: “I would say to the Strata family, I would say to everyone that has lost loved ones, lost friends in 9/11 that I have deep, deep empathy for them. I can’t emphasize that enough. I have the deepest of sympathy and empathy for them.”

Mickelson didn’t answer the question. He spoke to the family, but he didn’t address his decision, and maybe there’s no question Brennan could have asked that would have prompted him to do it. Mickelson is not under oath. There’s no judge to compel him to answer.

However, she would have had a better shot at getting something with a simpler question. Something like: How do you reconcile your decision to play in LIV Golf with the hurt it’s causing families who were affected by 9/11?

II. The double-barreled bogey

Ask one question. Just one. This is true if you have a cooperative subject. Multiple questions create confusing and they lead to longer answers. Asking a single question is especially important, however, when you have an uncooperative subject for reasons that will become apparent:

Q: I’m curious, what does legacy mean to you, and do you think your legacy will change with LIV Golf?

Yep. Two different questions, which is an absolute gift even if Mickelson initially complains about it.

Phil: “I don’t like it when you keep asking multiple questions, but as far as legacy, and I’ll just address that.”

See what he did? He’s answering the easier of the two questions. When you ask multiple questions, you give your subject that choice. Mickelson chose the easier way out.

Phil: “I would say that I’ve been a part of the PGA Tour for 30-plus years, and I have enjoyed my time. I’ve enjoyed the opportunities it has provided. I’ve enjoyed the lifestyle it has provided. I’ve enjoyed the fact that the game of golf — through the PGA Tour — has been able to give me and my family so much …”

He droned on for another 100 words or so about all the ways he’s helped golf, but I got bored and stopped transcribing. To the journalist’s credit, she butted-in to force a follow-up.

Q: Do you think that kind of legacy may have changed or will change?

Phil: “Like I said, I’ve done all I can to help contribute to the game, contribute to the PGA Tour during my time with them, and that’s all I can do.”

The follow-up is significantly better though it is a question that can be answered with a yes or a no. A better option: How do you think joining LIV Golf has changed your legacy?

III. The straw man

It can be tough to get famous people to address criticism they are facing. The famous usually have advisors, and those advisors do things like explain to famous people how best to avoid addressing criticism they may be facing. One trick that media members are known to use is asking the subject to address an opinion being expressed by some unspecified person or persons. There was a noble effort to get Mickelson to stumble into this trap on Monday.

Q: Hi Phil, I appreciate it’s still early in the week, but what sort of welcome have you had and what sort of welcome back are you anticipating you’ll have from your peers, who will feel betrayed by you and lost an awful lot of respect for you.

It’s the last part of that I find hilarious. Now maybe there are some of Mickelson’s peers who feel betrayed, but so far as I’ve seen, none have stated that publicly. I’m not aware of anyone stating that as definitively as it is laid out in this question. Let’s see how Mickelson answered.

Phil: “I have the utmost respect for the players on the PGA Tour. There have been a lot of friendships that have gone on for decades with Amy and myself. There have been a lot of memories that we have shared, experiences that we’ve shared, and many of the players on the PGA Tour are people that I look up to and respect the most. I think that I respect if they disagree, but at this time, this is the right decision.”

A better question: How have you been received by the golfers who remain part of the PGA Tour? It might not get a better answer, but if Mickelson says that everything has been fine, it would be a response that other golfers may react to.

IV. The not-so-subtle suck-up

Now, my favorite question from the press conference came from a bloke with an English accent, who tried a little commiseration to see if Mickelson would bite.

Q: Phil, you’re not the first professional athlete to deal with Saudi Arabia. Motorsport, boxing, horse racing, Newcastle United in the Premier League, the U.S. government even deals with Saudi Arabia. Do you feel the criticism of yourself and others has been maybe unfairly harsh?

Maybe he honestly felt the criticism of Mickelson was overblown. Maybe he just wanted to lure Mickelson into saying the criticism was overblown. Either way, solid effort by our chap from across the pond even if Mickelson opted against this particular piece of bait.

Phil: “That’s not necessarily for me to say. I think the important thing is that everyone is entitled to their opinion. I understand that it brings out a lot of strong emotions for a lot of people and I respect the way they may or may not feel about it.”

V. The even-less-subtle suck-up

Q: Phil, what’s with the facial hair and is it here to stay?

This produced the answer that question deserved.

Phil: “Amy liked it so as long as she likes it, it’s here. And when she says it’s gone, it’s gone.”

In the reporter’s defense, it was as interesting as anything else Mickelson said Monday, and he was so shell-shocked by this point that he delivered his answer in the same understated tones he used for his repeated expressions of respect toward those who disagreed with him.

And honestly, there might not have been a way to get Mickelson to deviate from his talking points no matter how good the questions were. And there were some good ones. My favorite came toward the end: “Are you at peace with the real possibility of never playing on the PGA Tour again?”

It didn’t get Mickelson to open up any more than the question about his beard.

“Again,” Mickelson said, “very appreciative of the many memories, opportunities, experiences, friendships, relationships the PGA Tour has provided, and those are going to last a lifetime. But I’m hopeful that I’ll have a chance to create more.”

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BSM Writers

Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing

…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.

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WRONG BAD

In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.

“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.

“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”

Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.

The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?

That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.

You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.

“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”

Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.

Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”

Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”

Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”

Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”

It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.

WORTH EVERY PENNY

I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.

My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.

My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.

After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.

Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.

Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”

My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.

My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.

Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.

And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.

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BSM Writers

Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio

I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.

Jeff Caves

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Radio Sales

A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours. 

But is that why you sell sports radio?

In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.

A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family. 

Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.

I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.  

I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.

Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important. 

So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.  

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table

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Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.

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