How not to hold a press conference, C. Jeter edition

Before the actual soccer started, the most entertaining thing I saw at a 2011 Women’s World Cup venue was a press conference that included one Sepp Blatter and a couple of other dignitaries of varying connections to women’s soccer. They had Steffi Jones, the beloved former German player and president of the organizing committee. They had Tatjana Haenni, head of FIFA women’s competition. And for some reason, they had FIFA executive committee member Worawi Makudi of Thailand.

Blatter artfully deflected questions about his old comments on women’s soccer and revealing clothes, and he declined to tackle the issue of Nigeria’s anti-lesbian purge. But at the very end, someone started to ask Makudi a question, somehow tying it to the tournament at hand but also steering it to recent alle-

Press conference over. Thanks for coming. Enjoy the whateverwurst.

Perhaps that abrupt conclusion was to be expected. The press conference was nearly over, anyway. The people behind the microphones said at the outset they were only going to talk about women’s football, and that question was a sharp tangent. We had managed to make it through 29 minutes or so of legitimate, if not particularly interesting, conversation.

Compare that with the curious case of Carmelita Jeter and Shelly Ann Fraser-Pryce.

From Christopher Chavez, who documented yesterday’s press conference (with video): The two sprinters, the reigning world and Olympic champions at 100 meters, sat down for their introduction from the press officer, who also tossed them the usual opportunities to speak a little. Then the press officer said there would be no questions about the doping issues that have hit the USA and Jamaica, their home countries, in recent days.

The first question, barely audible on the video, was rather innocuous. The second question, addressed to Fraser-Pryce, was about how the Jamaican team was dealing with the distraction of the doping issues.

The press officer snapped that the question was out of bounds. Reporters asked why. Then Jeter said bye-bye. So did Fraser-Pryce. So reporters got one question before the walkout.

For his part, reporter Simon Hart of the Telegraph is hardly apologetic.

And he’ll defend his right to ask the questions:

Check around on Twitter, and you’ll see Jeter has plenty of enablers telling her she did the right thing. That’s a nice reflection of how much people respect journalists these days and adore celebrities, even celebrities a vast majority of people don’t know.

The bottom line: She had an opportunity to show grace and determination at a difficult time in her sport’s history. Instead, she came across as petty and defensive. Casual fans — which would describe most track and field fans in the USA, despite my best efforts to get you all to read the Woly Awards and everything else I posted in 10 years at USA TODAY — would look at that video and think she has something to hide.

Maybe if she had at least waited until, say, an actual doping question was actually addressed to her?

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Beau Dure

The guy who wrote a bunch of soccer books and now runs a Gen X-themed podcast while substitute teaching and continuing to write freelance stuff.

2 thoughts on “How not to hold a press conference, C. Jeter edition”

  1. Hart clearly stated that he was trying to “get around” the ban on drug related questions. So, he was sneakily trying to ask questions about PEDs without directly asking a question about PEDs. He then goes on to admit that he refused to do as he was told (or, rather, advised not to do). The conditions of the press conference were clearly laid out beforehand – no questions about PEDs will be answered. He has every right to still ask the questions, and they have every right not to answer them. I imagine that it’s tough enough for female athletes to get legitimate questions about their exploits without having to spend most of their time answering questions about someone else’s indiscretions. If reporters won’t respect that, I don’t blame the athletes for walking out. Doesn’t make Hart a bad guy, and the athletes sure aren’t bad guys for refusing to take part in an interrogation when they aren’t the ones who should be interrogated. I think your use of the word “enabler” (normally reserved for someone supporting another who is engaged in bad behavior) is unfair. “Supporter” is more appropriate. I don’t see this as the athletes being “petty and defensive” or “having something to hide,” I see this as yet another example of a reporter prodding and an athlete realizing that they’re not going to get what they would like to get – an opportunity to talk about their own sporting exploits.

  2. Hard to believe how far the old media has fallen. And how little respect they have anymore.

    It used to be that a “no comment” or “I am not going to comment on that, next question” would have been the response. No sudden walkouts or press conference terminations. That sort of behavior played out VERY badly on television. It was only done on scripted wrestling shows for dramatic effect.

    We are living in the era of the Twitter flash mob. God help us.

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