SOMETIMES you get inspiration and advice from the unlikeliest of sources. As a sportswriter, the advice sometimes comes after asking a tricky or tough question to an interviewee. Other times, it happens while covering an event.
“Why do you have such reputation for having a bad temper?”
As a journalist, there will come times to ask tough questions. This particular question required about 15 minutes of build-up and a lot of nerves on my part. The recipient of the question stopped talking, locked his eyes on mine and did something funny with his mouth, as if he couldn’t figure out how to respond.
I hoped I appeared calm on the outside. My insides shook like an ill-built beach shack in the middle of a hurricane. My fear came from having seen the clips on television of John McEnroe’s temper at judges, fans and crazy journalists who ask stupid questions. McEnroe made me wait. After what seemed like an eternity but was probably no more than 30 seconds, a big smile covered his face and he leaned back and laughed.
I then got a 10-minute soliloquy from Johnny Mac on his life, growing up, tennis and more. He was eloquent, kind and blunt.
I don’t remember everything McEnroe said, but I do remember key points. He told me how important it is to be you. He said he was probably too much of his own self on many occasions, but that by being himself he was able to achieve greatness in tennis and life. He encouraged me to follow his example, minus the bad temper and well-known outbursts. But, he also offered that it’s good to scare people every now and then.
On a sunny, warm November day in Southwest Florida, I spent around an hour with Fred Couples. Couples was playing a practice round leading up to the what used to be called the Shark Shootout, a type of pro-am golf tournament hosted by Australian golfer Greg Norman.
I shot some video of Couples teeing off. After a minute, he walked over to me, noticed my Auburn Cross Country hat and asked if I liked college foot-ball. I do and for the next hour as Couples crushed golf balls, signed autographs for fans and played golf at a level the average Joe can only dream of, we talked college football.
Couples knew his stuff and even ragged on his caddy, a Penn State fan, quite often. I’ve met or interviewed Tiger Woods, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Norman and more. They are all gracious and answered my questions, but after nine holes of talking football with Couples, he became my favorite golfer.
At one point, Couples asked about my career, and we talked about media and the direction web-sites were taking it. The next day, Couples saw me as he was practicing, walked over to me and thanked me for the video piece I did. He told me to keep producing pieces like that and I would have a great career. He didn’t have to do that, but a famous golfer taking a moment to offer encouraging words is something I’ll never forget.
Bring up the name Steve Spurrier in the Deep South, and the results can vary. Many, many people hate Spurrier, especially those who cheer for teams in the Southeastern Conference not named Florida or South Carolina.
After the Gators gigged my beloved Auburn Tigers at Jordan Hare Stadium in 1995, I sat in the visiting press conference room waiting to ask Spurrier a question. I raised my hand but a reporter next to me got called on.
The man asked a question. Spurrier looked at the reporter, took his visor off, lowered his head and told the reporter it was a stupid question, and he wouldn’t answer it.
Spurrier then made eye contact, pointed at me and told me to ask my question. My heart fell into my stomach or possibly my feet, and I’m sure my eyes grew as large as saucers. I managed to stammer out my query and was met with a cold stare from Spurrier.
The Head Ball Coach looked at me for another few seconds and then asked my age. I was 22 at the time and told him so. He then pointed to the previous journalist, who was my elder by at least two if not three decades, and said he could learn a lot from the kid sitting next to him.
Spurrier answered my question, telling me it was a good question. Toward the end of the press conference he chastised another reporter for what he said was a lame question. He turned back to me asking if I had another question, which I did.
Afterwards, Spurrier made a point of coming over and talking to me and encouraging me to continue pursuing my career in sports writing.
It’s funny, because I hear people say mean things about McEnroe and Spurrier often, and I just smile. Sometimes I offer my stories. Other times I don’t. Pretty much everyone loves Couples, and I can see why.
One of my elementary school teachers had a sign in her classroom telling students there was no such thing as a stupid question. McEnroe and Spurrier would disagree.
It’s not all rainbows and kittens with those questions, though. I’ve had more than a few ath-letes or coaches tell me what to do with myself in words unusable in this magazine.
However, it hasn’t stopped me from asking those questions, and I believe if you craft a good question and ask it with sincerity, you might just be surprised with the answer and the story you can recount later.
*The views expressed in this column are those of the writer, and do not represent the opinions of V3 Magazine.