By Dan Tapper
We frequently remind clients of the need to stand your ground when being interviewed by a journalist, particularly when the interview is at least a bit contentious. “Don’t let them dictate what you are going to say,” we say over and over. “Don’t let them speak for you or put words in your mouth. Their job is to ask the tough questions. Your job is to hold your ground and speak for yourself.”
It’s advice that never gets old and never gets any less important. Everything you say to a reporter, on or off the record, has to be the truth. But you get to deliver it on your own terms, not anybody else’s. And if you have messages that you believe in, that you are willing and able to not just stand by but to stand up and tout, chances are you will come out ahead.
Recently I saw a rather perfect example of the value of holding your ground, from an article written by a sportswriter in 2012 commemorating the death of Marvin Miller (pictured at left), the man who formed the first ever Baseball Players Association in the 1960s and, in the eyes of the majority of baseball fans, changed the game forever, and largely for the better. No less a baseball authority than legendary broadcaster Red Barber once said, “Marvin Miller, along with Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson, is one of the two or three most important men in baseball history.”
This sportswriter, Joe Posnanski – now a senior columnist for Sports Illustrated – recalled at Miller’s death an interview he did with him 10 years earlier in 2002 about the then-current labor situation in baseball, when a strike was being threatened and the growing sentiment seemed to be many in the public had turned against the players in favor of the owners.
And it’s here where Posnanski pointed out perhaps Miller’s greatest strength—he always held his ground and never once budged from delivering his message. He was able to do this, it seems, because he so fervently believed in his message
As Posnanski wrote 10 years later, looking back on that interview: “For every question, there was an emphatic answer. For every proposition there was suspicion. For every search for middle ground, there was a powerful push back. But, through it all, I don’t think he raised his voice once. Through it all, I don’t believe he ever said one word that hinted at arrogance or dismissiveness. He was just explaining things, patiently, with some humor, without doubt.”
Read for yourself. Here are some excerpts from that 2002 story Posnanski wrote about his interview with Marvin Miller. And take special note at how hard Posnanski pushes him, and how hard Miller pushes right back. His refusal to accept what he saw as flawed premises, his refusal to accept a reporter’s questions as facts – this is, as the saying goes, how it’s done.
“It’s a different world,” I suggested. (Than it had been in the 1960s when the union was born)
“No,” he said bluntly. “It’s the same fight.”
“There are people who blame the players for not cleaning up the game by submitting to steroid testing,” I challenged.
“Do you want someone searching your car without proper cause?” he asked back. “Your house? No. Of course not. But you think it’s fair for people to search your bloodstream or bladder? That’s absurd.”
Some players — current and former — seem to feel like the union has already won so many battles, it should be willing to meet the owners more in the middle.
“I remember when we were trying to do away with the reserve clause (NOTE: This is the clause that essentially tied a player to one team for life; when Miller appealed to an arbitrator that it was illegal, he won his case, the clause was abolished and this directly led to free agency). I marveled at the fact that something like that could be in players’ contracts. … But even more, I marveled at the fact that, when I brought it up to the players, they gave me a response which, in effect, said baseball couldn’t survive without it. They had been brainwashed to believe the reserve clause was good for baseball.”
Yes, maybe, but what about fans? They cannot even relate to the money these players make. How can you expect them to relate to the players’ plight?
“I don’t expect that. Fans never have related. Here’s what I would say to that. Fans don’t seem to understand that the largest pocketbook issue that faces them is the tax money being used for essentially free stadiums for wealthy owners. That’s hundreds of millions of dollars in cities where schools are crumbling and highways and bridges need repair.
“Players make what they deserve to make on the open market. That’s all. And let me say this again: Fans have their rights. But they should have nothing to say on what a player earns. I liken it to an automobile company. Somebody might buy six or seven Chevrolets in his life. Automobile companies ought to listen to the things he has to say about how a car looks, how it runs, how it stands up. All important things. But I don’t think a car buyer has any right to have any input whatsoever on the wages and benefits of automobile employees.”
Here is the full interview for those who wish to read it. It’s a great lesson, from a person who knew as much as any the value of a strong, immovable message.