Wed. Sep 26th, 2018

Learning From Christian Laettner

You might’ve gotten nauseous while watching Monday Night Football. The 7-point underdog Washington Redskins were in prime position to cover the spread. They trailed the Kansas City Chiefs 23-20 with :04 tiny seconds remaining. Of course they dialed up a razzle-dazzle play that severely lacked in both razzle and dazzle. The Redskins fumbled. Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston recovered and scored. Skins bettors collectively lost their lunch. Chiefs 29, Redskins 20. Ouch.

Whatever is the next stage of “backdoor cover,” we witnessed it on Monday night. The 2×4-to-the-face cover. The college-fund-disappearance cover. The what-the-bleep-just-bleepin-happened cover. No, I didn’t have cash on the Redskins. Let’s just say I can understand the gut punch of having a few bucks already spent, only to have the rug pulled out from underneath you.

All of this, however, is just small potatoes compared to something far more serious that occurred before the game. The Chiefs held a moment of silence for the victims in Las Vegas after one of the deadliest mass shootings in American history. At least 59 people were killed and over 500 hundred were injured on Sunday, as a gunman opened fire on a music festival crowd from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino.

The moment of silence was a classy move to pay respect to everyone impacted — the victims and their grieving families. It was a great display to see an entire stadium silently show support. By the way, it’s interesting how no one says “stick to sports” when they actually agree with the words or actions. Funny how that works.

The tribute at Arrowhead Stadium was also a reflection of how numerous sports talk radio shows handled this horrific story appropriately. Shows offered their thoughts and sympathy, then transitioned back to sports as an “escape.” It wasn’t choppy or awkward. The transitions, although difficult considering the circumstances, sounded smooth and respectful.

The bigger picture from a sports talk standpoint, is to speak into a microphone, exactly how you’d speak without a mic in sight (minus the cuss words). For example, I talk to my mom and dad each week, and my girlfriend every day. When we talk about a serious subject like the Las Vegas shootings, we exchange our views, and then we eventually transition to other subjects. It isn’t rocket science.

Many hosts worry about things they shouldn’t worry about. “What if I talk about this topic too long? What if I don’t talk about it long enough? What if my transition isn’t smooth?” These are all concerns that don’t pop up in life. They shouldn’t pop up in a studio either. I’ve never once had a phone conversation and thought, “What if my transition from this topic to the next one isn’t smooth?” You just naturally switch to something else. Why should a show be any different?

What’s interesting is why these concerns arise on the air. I’d be lying to you if I said a worry or two didn’t pop up for me occasionally. Why is this so? Well, if you’re on the phone with someone, there aren’t hundreds of people listening to your every word while critiquing the things you say. They aren’t emailing or tweeting negative things. It’s just you and the person you’re talking to.

Whether you realize it or not, the on-air concerns that emerge for hosts are the byproduct of negative feedback. Don’t let those punk listeners turn yourself into a basket case who overanalyzes each word you toss out. If you’re using good judgment with your comments and someone still has a problem, just internally tell them to jump in a river.

There are some related lines to this idea in the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary, “I Hate Christian Laettner.” At the end of the doc, Laettner says, “The opinion of my siblings, my parents, my coaches — those are the opinions that I will listen to and I will be concerned about, but the opinions from a distance? I mean, you can’t do that. You can’t waste your life worried about those things. I’m not gonna spend a millisecond considering ‘why do you hate me?’ Because not everyone in the world likes ya.”

This should be a sports talk radio commandment — “Thou shall adhere to Christian Laettner’s 30 for 30 outro.”

Being worried about disapproval or possible negativity is a waste of time. Don’t let it phase you. There’s a fine line between anticipating your audience’s reaction, and being handicapped while foreseeing their complaints. Use good judgment on the air, and then just leave it at that.

Imagine if Christian Laettner took every negative comment or chant during his playing days to heart. What if he allowed it to negatively impact him? You would’ve seen a much different player. One that was timid and passive while unconfident. It can work the same way on the air. Don’t allow disapproval to impact your approach with any topic, especially a serious one. Proceed as if resistance didn’t exist.

If you’re old enough, you might’ve hated Christian Laettner during his Duke days, but you should absolutely emulate the approach that made him great — don’t waste your life being concerned about negative opinions. Succeeding in this business requires thick skin. When it comes to overpowering negativity, be like Laettner.

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