It’s time to end the “he was answering a question” excuse

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I’ve noticed in recent years a trend that officially has become my new pet peeve.

When someone says something inflammatory, controversial, and/or divisive, they often get a pass because the inflammatory, controversial, and/or divisive comment came not as an affirmative statement but as an answer to a question.

The concept first hit my radar screen in 2011, when Giants quarterback Eli Manning declared himself to be an elite quarterback.  Sure, he was asked by Michael Kay of ESPN New York whether Eli regards himself as elite.  But just because a “yes” or “no” question has been posed doesn’t mean the guy has to say “yes” or “no.”

He could have (and even though he went on to prove his elite status that season should have) said, “That’s not for me to decide.  I don’t worry about labels applied by others.  I worry about what I can control.”

But many defended Eli’s “sure, I’m elite” response because he was simply answering a question.

Recently, that dynamic reared its head in connection with Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, who apparently said that he wants to be a team captain because he was asked whether he wants to be a team captain.

Regardless of how the topic is teed up, if a guy says, “I want to be a team captain,” it means he wants to be a team captain.  In this era of 24-hour news cycles (which helps justify player salaries and off-field earnings), players need to constantly run whatever they plan to say through the filter.

For Newton, a better response arguably would have been something like, “That’s not for me to decide.  I would be honored if my teammates choose me.  And I hope that I would be worthy of wearing the ‘C’ on my jersey.”

Regardless of whether anyone agrees or disagrees with Newton’s decision to verbalize his desire to be a team captain, the notion that he was merely answering a question is irrelevant.  Most of what an athlete ever says to the media comes in response to a question, and learning how to respond to questions extemporaneously is one of the most important off-field skills for any pro athlete.

Hell, much of the dumb stuff I’ve said over the years has come in response to a question.  It doesn’t change the fact that the stuff I said was dumb.

90 responses to “It’s time to end the “he was answering a question” excuse

  1. Newt would have to huddle for three days with his minders to come up with as complex and thoughtful a response as you suggest. He has the mind of a 12 year old. Not a particularly clever one, either.

  2. So, the next time that Florio asks somebody a “yes or no” question, he won’t mind if somebody gives a mealy-mouthed, non committal answer? What a disingenuous post this is. The tendancy is for people to respond to a question in the terms in which it is posed. Reporters know this, and that is why questions are asked in the form that they are.

  3. Dumb according to who? If YOU have a personal opinion that Eli Manning is not elite, that is your opinion, but it doesn’t make Manning dumb for saying what he says and/or believes.

    Newton isn’t stupid or wrong for saying he wants to be team captain.

    Peterson isn’t wrong for saying he is against same-sex unions.

    Eye of the beholder….

  4. If every athlete spoke as boringly as you suggest you’d have nothing to write about. Quite apart from the fact that these particular ‘inflammatory’ statements are nothing of the sort, they are just telling us about themselves.

    Would you really rather they all speak robot?

  5. The problem I have comes when the written-word media takes what was, in its full context, a pretty innocuous exchange and cherry-picks a quote for their own particular story line. Yeah, the guy said it, but come on….keep the context. Then it gets blown out of proportion by other media outlets who pick up that skewed story.

    It’s why I always prefer to read unedited transcripts of media sessions. And why I never trust ellipses in movie reviews, either.

  6. It was worth having Newton say it just so we could hear the quotes from his teammates intimating that there’s no way in hell he’s gonna be a captain.

  7. I agree with your point in general.

    The fact that you were answering a question does not make you immune to any consequences that arise from the context of your answer.

    Your specific example, however, is a little puzzling to me. I fail to see how Newton’s response falls into the “inflammatory, controversial, and/or divisive comment” definition.

    His response to me sounded like he understood what it means to be a captain and it was something he was working toward every day. I didn’t see anything in there controversial.

    If anything, I take more issue with the idea that the current Panther captains are somehow beyond reproach and irreplaceable. Unless I missed all of those great Panther seasons that occurred under their watch.

  8. “Would you welcome an openly gay team mate in your locker room?”
    It’s easy…real easy…to say “yeah sure” nowadays, whether you feel that way or not. Athletes have zero to gain by addressing that intentionally leading question, IMO.
    Don’t put it all on the athletes and their dumb responses, Mike. Today’s media has become a compromised, irresponsible, agenda-driven joke.

  9. Just a completely asinine stance taken here. No one wants to read about a professional sports league whose players are flawlessly media-trained. We’d just wait for the games to be played. Without public/controversial players, you’re the NHL.

  10. I’m only commenting because there was a thing to click on that says “comment” 😉

  11. My brother, who is very non-talkative, likes to say, “I never got into trouble by saying nothing.” In that respect at least, he’s smarter than I am and certainly smarter than these athletes.

    Athletes have to get smarter. These so-called “reporters” aren’t there to just report; they’re looking for “aha!” or “gotcha!” moments to sell their wares. Recognize the implications of a question before you answer, and if there’s no graceful way out, say, “No comment” or “That’s a loaded question and I’m not going to answer that.”

  12. I agree completely. The main issue is society has been trending towards a lack of values. Things such as humility, honor, and honesty are shunned in favor of bombastic, self-centered behavior. The lack of accountability is stunning. Many people seem to think if something cannot be proven to a ridiculous standard then it didn’t really happen and there was nothing done wrong. It is often the fault of everyone else and rarely do people accept blame, learn from their mistakes and move forward. They simply acknowledge stuff happens and then trot out the same tired excuses when it happens again because they did nothing to prevent it. It’s all about making excuses and self-promotion nowadays.

  13. Two comments over three years. And such inflammatory ones they are! Two guys who are in a position that demands leadership said they want to be viewed as “the guy”. I can see why you’re so fired up!

  14. I respect your opinoin, but I totally disagree with the premise that answering a question is looked at as an “excuse”. If someone would ask me a question , I would give them an answer. If you may not like the answer or may not like my opinion, then don’t ask the question in the first place. In regards to the media, they “bait” athletes, entertainers, politicians and then complain about the answer if it is not what they wanted to here or if it is not “PC”.

  15. Fair enough. But then I don’t want to hear any complaints when you get those “That’s not for me to decide, blah, blah blah” answers as someone trying to avoid the question. You can’t have it both ways.

  16. Maybe they should just start taking the Drew Rosenhaus approach-

    “Next Question”

  17. I’ve hated that reply for many years when speaking of adult people who have to handle the media as part of their job especially.
    I think the first time I heard it as a defense where it angered me a great deal was when Peyton Manning was being defended by the masses for throwing his OL under the bus after Pitt beat them in the playoffs in 05. Making things worse, Manning was a communications major and made a lot of speeches in public as part of it.
    I don’t think what Newton said about being a captain is nearly as revolting as what Eli and Flacco said about being elite. Confidence is good but humility is better, especially in a QB. With Eli, it’s really the only thing he’s ever said that I thought was iffy. With Flacco, not so much.

  18. This might be the most ridiculous thing I’ve read on this site. What is wrong with wanting to be a team captain? Athletes gives us plenty of boilerplate responses as it is. I fail to see a problem with a guy stating that he has goals.

  19. These guys aren’t perfect. They’re athletes, I personally don’t think they owe anything to the media or need to ‘watch’ what they say. Eli was right about being elite and so was Flacco. They both backed up the talk with Super Bowl MVP awards. So if Cam wants to be a captain and is vocal about it, let him prove he’s the captain..

  20. How about the media just stop asking dumb questions that are only asked to try and make controversy that they can then use to generate headlines and page clicks?

    You say the Eli didn’t have to answer yes/no, but your suggestion for an answer you and the other media people find “acceptable” doesn’t answer the question. Doesn’t that point to a problem with the question?

  21. Cam should have answered the question with, “When a man has his own clothing line, does he need to be captain?”

    or with…

    “If a tree falls in a forest and no-one is there to hear it, does it actually make a sound hitting the ground?”

    In my experience as an elite athlete, answering a question with a question befuddles many reporters, especially sports reporters.

  22. Here’s a thought….how about people answer questions and make statements based on how they feel and believe instead of worrying about what some reporter is going to think or whether or not they’re going to offend some thin-skinned pansy? All of the fighting people have done for freedom of speech and equal rights….and now those very same groups want to sensor anyone that disagrees with them. That’s called hypocrisy.

  23. Who didn’t want to be captain back in the days on the playground. Nothing wrong with picking your best friends to be on your team.

    Otherwise, I’d end up being one of the last guys picked.

  24. .

    How many ” journalists ” conduct an interview with the sole intent of creating a controversy? How many are in the news manufacturing business?

    Q. ” Eli, would you say you’re an elite quarterback or a North Korean spy?

    Headline : Manning renounces North Korean citizenship


  25. I’d rather players be good at covering the point spread than proficient at sidestepping random questions from the media. But that’s just me.

  26. What’s wrong with him simply stating that he wants to be a captain? Did saying as much cause harm to someone? The same is true for Eli’s situation.

    Of all the dumb questions athletes have answered through the years, why highlight these as examples of where athletes need to learn self-control?

    Maybe we should be asking why these answers elicit such overeactions by the media.

  27. Thinking fast on one’s feet is not a skill set that a lot of football players have from a verbal standpoint.

  28. Mike, do you consider yourself spelling bee worthy after correctly using and speling the word ‘extemporaneously’ in a sentence?

  29. Here’s how the media cycle works, right?
    -Reporter asks stupid/controversial question
    -Player gives equally stupid/controversial answer
    -Player “my comments were taken out of context”
    Next Day:

    The media is the worst and will write anything as long as it generates precious clicks. I’ll give PFT some credit for not jumping on EVERYTHING (i.e. kudos on not mentioning the wonderlic anymore) but for the most part they’re just as bad here as they are everywhere else.

  30. IMO its not the asking of questions that people have an issue with, its the constant over analyzing of the player’s quotes. when a guy says I want to be the team captain, he is selfish and talking out of turn. however of someone os asked that and they say no(especially a qb) then he is not mentally tough enough. and give me a break florio, if all players responded the way YOU would like them to, it would be incredibly boring and no one would pay attention. can’t have it all ways

  31. It might be easy to say “that’s for me to decide” is the ideal answer. But the media, you included, shouldn’t want it answered that way because it makes for less interesting news. These answers to questions are somewhat taken out of context to make the story more juicy. But for the most part, they’re non-stories.

    The confidence of NFL players–QB’s in particular–are probably off the charts compared to you or I. Perhaps it’s not realistic to expect them to answer the question the way we would answer it.

  32. I couldn’t disagree more. It’s one thing for athletes to be put on the spot and have to answer a question. It’s something entirely different when an athlete does it according to their own volition. It doesn’t carry the same weight no matter how you try to spin it.

    Congratulations at knowing all the correct answers. Maybe you should teach a course on it.

  33. The media has devolved into a bunch of self-aggrandizing tools who prefer to BE the story as opposed to simply REPORTING the story.

    I’ve got a news flash of my own for the media … Americans think 95% of you are biased twits who wouldn’t know a balanced, fair piece if it came up and bit you in the butt. And that includes sportswriters.

    If you think we don’t realize that you INTENTIONALLY float these inflammatory questions out there just hoping to lure some poor sap into saying something dumb so you can then turn around and manufacture something to talk about for the next week, you’re sadly mistaken.

  34. Not everyone here went to law school dude. You were taught how to weasel around questions without every really answering the question.

    Cam Newton is 23 years old and hasn’t quite learned how to master the fine art of beating around the bush on a reporters questioning. I think I’ll give him a pass.

  35. Lions81, the article states “in this era of 24 hour news cycles (which pay player salaries and off-field earnings). The NFL and teams could not afford these salaries and players could not make the endorsement money they do without the 24 hour news cycle and constant attention both positive and negative that keeps their names on the tips of our tongues. More young men could probably name off last years pro-bowlers than former presidents of the US. Unless you’d rather become IMO I like it the way it is.

  36. The problem is the media does not state that the player was responding to a specific question, they make it sound like “Cam Newton took the stage and stated he wanted to be team captain, he then lifted the mic towards the heavens and dropped it to the ground, before making his grand exit.”

  37. I don’t have a problem with Cam’s answer. This is his third year in the league and he ought to be or angling to be the captain. As a QB, he’s seen as the leader of the offense anyways, so this ought to be seen as his natural progression to EARNING the respect of a captain.

  38. I go back to the “what should he say” realm of thought on this issue. When Eli was asked if he was an elite QB, honestly, what should he have said? Yeah, you give an intelligent, beat-around-the-bush type answer. But then there’s a few issues with that as well. First off, if you’re a Giants fan, you WANT him to say he’s an elite QB. Fans typically like that brand of confidence, especially when the player proves it like Eli did. Psychologically, the player probably needs to hear himself say it out loud so it can really set in as a motivator. And if every player starts giving non-answers to these questions, media is going to start blowing it out of proportion like they always do and accuse the player of dodging the question entirely. Then you’re going to write this same article about having a new pet peeve about players not talking.

    To Cam’s declaration of wanting to be a captain, I say this. I’m no Panthers fan, but I love that he said it. So you want to be a captain Cam? GO EARN IT. He’ll be a better player for it, and that will make his team better for it as well. How is that a bad thing? It worked for Eli, it can work for Cam.

    What really bothers me is how the media constantly has to put negative spins on guy who just want to better themselves.

  39. I had to laugh at this one. Ask a stupid question, and it’s the other guy’s fault.

    It is unfortunate that 22-year-olds have to learn the hard way that the guy with the notepad or the camera gets to define what they said, what it meant, etc. etc. etc. in whatever way they choose.

    But acting like you don’t make money (that is–all your money–REMEMBER, when this site actually claimed to provide its own news from its own sources? Wasn’t that long ago….) from this learning process is either laughable or despicable…you choose!

  40. Funny. If athletes refused to answer the questions media asked them, you’d likely write an article complaining that players are dodging questions…You can’t have it both ways.

  41. I’m confused. Is there something wrong with Cam saying he wants to be a captain?

    People rip on him for being immature and not being a leader but as soon as he says he wants to take leadership, here you are saying that he said something wrong. Pick one or the other.

    I really cant believe more players haven’t taken a “I’m not talking to the media anymore than I absolutely have to” stance. Seems like no matter what, they just cant win with you guys. If they say A, then they should have said B. If they said B, then they should have said A.

    I just dont get it.

  42. If every time someone was asked about their wants or their abilities, they just reaponded “you guys can decide,” there would be no news.

    The media NEEDS and is aiming for answers they can attract readers with…because the alternative is hideously boring.

    Thats why rex as a HC was a breath of fresh air (at first)…someone was finally not just giving the same ole crap boring answers.

  43. Perhaps the real lesson to take from this is that we should not expect professional athletes to speak as carefully as lawyers and politicians.

  44. …and this is coming from someone who is specially trained in how to ask loaded questions? So when did you stop asking others inflammatory questions, Mike?

  45. Is it just me or can Cam Newton do no right.

    The year he was drafted the media said he shouldn’t go #1 all the way up until he did. Then the next year the same media said Andrew Luck should go #1 because he compared favorably to Newton (who they have very little positive to say about)

    If the guy had said he DIDN’T want to be a team captain they’d be questioning his leadership and fire.

    I think Cam should just stop talking to the media completely because they’ll NEVER let him get it right.

  46. Let’s assume you are right on that one:

    All you’ll get from athlete’s in the near future: “That’s not for me to decide. This is up to . I’ll focus on .”

    Which basically mean’s this whole page will com down to “That’s not for me to decide…” or “Seattle player caught for .

    I don’t want that!

  47. The example you used with Eli Manning is dumb in itself, because he went out and won ANOTHER ring the same season as his statement.

    Not only was he responsible for what he said, he proved it.

  48. Most interviews are basically a form of entrapment. Here’s another Cam Newton reference: last week Joseph Person on the Charlotte observer asked this: “Michael Vivk recently said he is still the fastest quarterback in the game, where do you think you are in that conversation?” <paraphrase

    he wanted him to say he was faster or just as fast as Vick but he said he didn't want to get into it. As a panthers fan, I'd much rather Cam say he's secretly striving to be a captain, he wants to be a better leader. If he didn't it would make me second guess whether or not he wanted to even be on the team….give us a break, Mike

  49. If a reporter is looking for a specific response to a question and they don’t get it, maybe they should change the question. Don’t ask a question if you are not big enough for an honest answer.

  50. i dont think it’s so much that people use that to explain away a stupid comment. it’s more about WHY they made the stupid. the point is that it the overanalysis always makes it seems like the guy chased down the reporter in the parking lot and forced him to print his opinion on subject “x”. when belichick or popovich give short, curt answers, you moan about how much fun they arent.

  51. I think we might be missing the point. Let’s face it, most people are pretty dumb, and sports fans are probably some of the dumbest. The controversies surrounding answered questions are presented to the dumb public as if the player went out seeking a place to voice his opinion, and that is the way the media likes it. When it is pointed out to the dumb public that the player was simply answering a question that probably had no importance to him, it ruins it for the media because the dumb public then gets it and the negative sentiment surrounding the exchange is shifted from the player to the media. That is why the media would like to remove from the table the excuse of “he was answering a question,” because if no one explains that part to you, it is likely you will never figure it out. The bottom line: reporting to idiots is a lot easier than reporting to smart people.

  52. Maybe Bryce Harper’s answer, “That’s a clown question, bro!” , wasn’t such a poor choice, after all.

  53. @wikipediasaidso

    What you said is so deep and true on so many levels. That is the “news” now in days whether it’s PFT ESPN or just your local radio am sports channel. Sad part is the masses take a quote and run with it. I personally never opinion on a interview unless I hear it it’s original context and entirety. Perfect example…For 2 years I tried telling people to listen to the actual Joe Flacco interview about being “the best qb”(You can youtube it) When asked what he was ask and the way he was asked I guarantee no fan would of wanted their QB to say ANYTHING different then what he did but no, all these simple minded fools take what the national media gives them and runs with it without saying “hmm maybe I should actually listen to it and form my own opinion” Oh well PFT won’t post this anyway, probably because I’m not just falling in line with these trollers and kids who currently fill up 90% of the comment section.

  54. It is a no win situation.

    If he answers YES…Media Response = Egomaniac

    If he answers “That’s not for me to decide”…

    Media Response = Grow a set and answer the question!

  55. My pet peeve is that the media/society/the league places so much importance on these players to be politically correct. I’d much rather hear Eli say he’s elite than give me the run around.

  56. “(and…should have) said, ‘That’s not for me to decide.’ ” Then why ask the question? If they’re supposed to answer a question a certain why then why ask. Why not just give Eli Manning a multiple choice question.

  57. Media murders the guy (Tim Tebow) who is the king of not making a definitive statement, either way. So even in the event you don’t answer a question PC, or by side stepping it, the media will dig to find a source who doesn’t want their name displayed to get the story they want anyways. I guess I am saying, what is the utility in whatever the answer is, when you guys are going to spin it the way you like anyways? I agree though some players get put through the ringer without having answered either way, and others get a pass having answered poorly.

  58. NFL players should be required to have an attorney specializing in Public/Media Relations present when he makes any public statement in any medium.

  59. jeez, newton can’t catch a break with you writers. everything he says and does gets nitpiked like no one else. i can just see if he gave that response (up to team) he would have gotten nailed for not asserting himself as being a leader. he has verbalized and that should be enough for everyone to say “ok, earn it”. let the kid play. get out of his head.

  60. Nice try, Mike, but only a member of the media could be blind to the obvious difference between a guy who tracks down a reporter to make an unsolicited statement on a particular topic and guy who is simply answering a question posed by a reporter with the intent to solicit some kind of embarrassing response that can then be sensationalized.

    As a lawyer, would you also say that entrapment should be legal?

  61. So now we are flogging Cam for saying he wants to be a captain? Why is this a bad thing? Sounds like he is getting a bad wrap more for things he didn’t say to me… he never said he deserves to be a captain today or even this year, the media filled in those blanks themselves.

    That is my pet peeve… and it’s not a new one.

    I say more power to him if his goal is to become a captain! If his team-mates deem him worthy, who are you or me or anyone else to take issue with it?

  62. I’m officially deleting this app from my phone and never visiting PFT again…Florio, you have turned into a ridiculous blowhard, and seemingly feel that your “journalistic rights” give you the opportunity to degrade people who don’t conform to your selfish point of view….you have confused reporting with editorial writing…this is so far over the stupidity line I’m at a loss for words….it’s a shame…this site used to be cool until you decided that you were a “journalist” instead of a lawyer….

  63. That’s why I love Bill Belichik and Greg Popovich! I enjoy watching them frustrate those “dumb” reporters with answers they can do nothing with. It actually refreshing to see!

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