Nick Saban made a racially insensitive remark to a reporter. It was far from worst racial comment ever made, but still a stupid comment. I was going to let this pass without comment, until he tried to apologize.
For starters, listen to Saban's remarks.
I think it's a great case study for athletes and others when it comes to dealing with the media, making "off the record" comments, and issuing public apologies. It should be common sense, but let's review.
"Off the record" is dicey
It's generally not smart for high profile people to make insensitive remarks to reporters, even if just to repeat what someone else said, and then assume "off the record" is some kind of legally protected privilege.
"Off the record" is basically used by the media to corroborate a story or to provide background information. The anecdote told by Saban was clearly for entertainment purposes only.
Most athletes and coaches have been well trained to deal with the media. Too well. Show respect, show humility, use eye contact, say little.
Sorry, not sorry excuses
Now that the story (and the audio) is all over the Internet, Saban had to issue an apology. He said the word he used "can be taken as derogatory by some people."
By some people? Visualize a Venn diagram. According to Saban, not all people think "coonass" is derogatory. And these people (including the one who has Saban on speed dial) are qualified to decide what is and what isn't acceptable? Saban is a little slow getting started with his apology. Onward.
Saban continues: "Those comments need to be placed in the proper context, so as to understand the meaning of what was said. The words were used in paraphrasing a story told to me by a friend. I was simply using the same wording used by the person who told me the story."
This is the Brady Bunch defense. It's not me who has the problem, it's my good friend...who happens to be a LSU trustee...who takes time out of his busy schedule to tell the story equating Saban taking the Alabama job to a wife "f&%$#ing" another man. Ironic that the story is about a man who digs ditches.
"The term in question is not language that I use or condone, and I can understand how some would take offense. However, I think it must be noted that those comments were made 'off the record' and the words merely reflected an anecdote that was told to me using that language."
So the reporter is at fault for publishing the tapes? Blaming the media is never a good defense.
In my upcoming book, Money Players: A Pro Athlete's Guide to Success in Sports, Business, & Life, I have a chapter that offers advice when it comes to dealing with the media. I asked athletes and journalists to tell short anecdotes. My favorite is from Fred Claire, former Los Angeles Dodgers general manager:
"One time, there was something written about our team which I thought was completely unfair. My first reaction was to respond immediately in order set the record straight. But Walter [O’Malley, then owner of the Dodgers] stopped me. He did not want me to get involved in things which ultimately had no bearing on our team and its performance. His line, which I’ve repeated often, was, 'Don’t argue with people who buy ink by the barrel.' Stay focused on your objectives. Ultimately, you’ll be judged by your accomplishments or lack of accomplishments, but don’t let the media determine your fate."
Saban should just take responsibility, say he's sorry, and be quiet.
© 2007 Marc Isenberg. All rights reserved.