University needs to open up to media

Sports is a breeding ground for clichÇs.
Athletes and coaches often rely on stock phrases to get their point across. For instance, how many times have you heard about what Randy Moss “brings to the table?”
And then there’s the issue of “mental mistakes” — as opposed to what? Don’t forget about “focusing” as a team and “battling hard.”
Minnesota’s coaches and athletes aren’t averse to throwing in a few clichÇs either.
And athletes who speak their minds are often told to tone it down and use clichÇs.
One Minnesota women’s hockey player said a few years back that she wanted to “kick New Hampshire’s ass.” It was generally known that the two teams (Minnesota and New Hampshire) disliked each other, but only one player was willing to talk about it.
The following year, probably after a good talking to, that same player was far more discreet, saying only that, “it would be nice to finally beat (New England).”
Another time, an athlete was talking about how she sang the “Brady Bunch” theme to herself during blowout wins. The athlete’s coach stopped her mid-sentence and said, “You know this is going in the paper tomorrow, right?”
What’s wrong with something interesting going in the paper?
Not everything that comes out of a player’s or coach’s mouth has to be about intensity or the game. Some of the most interesting people (Muhammad Ali, Charles Barkley to name a couple) are those who don’t worry too much about how they’re being interpreted.
Athletes at the University go through a process called “media training.” That’s where they go through an undoubtedly rigorous training consisting of: not answering questions, how to be vague and assuming everything is on the record, (even if they’re told it’s off the record).
But sometimes the University goes too far.
The media shutdown that happened with men’s athletics after the basketball scandal broke last spring was a typical response from the University. At the first sign of trouble, tell everyone to be quiet and allow a few figureheads to speak.
Former men’s basketball coach Clem Haskins had a lot to do with that mentality. Haskins, in case you need refreshing, is the guy who once said, “If I had it my way, my players and I would never talk to the media; ever.”
Some of that has changed under first-year coach Dan Monson. The new coach is more open, candid and heartfelt than most Division I coaches.
OK, not Northwestern men’s basketball coach Kevin O’Neill. O’Neill is renowned for being one of the funniest and best quotes around.
When asked Saturday if he missed his former center, Evan Eschmeyer, O’Neill replied, “Of course I do. We’d have gone 0-18 (in the Big Ten) last year without him.”
Interesting, huh?
Let’s get one thing straight. Us simple media folk understand athletes and coaches might not want to talk to reporters. Many times, we don’t want to talk to them either.
Athletes and coaches need to at least try and relax around reporters. Being off-the-cuff with reporters can often be endearing.
Currently not-so-beloved Gov. Jesse Ventura probably would have never been elected governor if he gave Skip Humphrey quotes.
Athletes and coaches need to loosen up a little and speak their minds. Maybe not to the extent Ventura does, but it wouldn’t be a bad start.

Jim Schortemeyer is the sports editor and welcomes comments at [email protected]