With respect to the bards at Augusta National, who would try to channel Herbert Warren Wind if Godzilla was pulverizing Kong at Amen Corner, this is no time for poetry about Tiger Woods’ absence. The Masters is underway with warm spring temperatures, yet a dark, haunting, almost macabre chill hangs in the Georgia air.
In a February crash he doesn’t remember, on a road with a 45 mph speed limit, Woods was driving an SUV between 84 and 87 mph on a stretch of curvy, downhill pavement. In real life, people who drive this maniacally are presumed to be under the influence, mentally ill or on a death wish. In Tiger’s world, the grisly accident was simply “a solo traffic collision,’’ said the sheriff in Los Angeles County, in southern California, which, by no coincidence, is where Woods grew up and made people proud.
If those official police numbers aren’t disturbing enough, given the opioids-and-THC cocktail consumed by Woods before his 2017 DUI arrest, consider this: The vehicle’s event data recorder indicates he hit not the brake but the accelerator before crossing two oncoming lanes, mauling a “Welcome to Rolling Hills Estates’’ sign and striking a curb before smashing into a tree that sent the SUV airborne in a semi-pirouette. Law enforcement officials, who have pulled muscles protecting Woods since the wreck that left him with potentially crippling leg and ankle injuries, think he might have hit the gas by mistake.
See if that line works the next time you’re in a fender-bender. Last time I couldn’t distinguish between the brake and pedal was in driver’s ed class.
I’m not certain how Alex Villanueva, the sheriff, has a job today. Because when Woods could have killed other drivers or pedestrians that morning, or himself, we’re still not getting answers about why a man with a drug-addictive past was going almost double the speed limit on the back roads of the Palos Verdes Peninsula. And why that man, of considerable wealth and fame, was not charged with reckless driving or even issued a speeding ticket, with Villanueva citing procedure that requires a police officer or independent witness to observe the act to trigger a citation.
And why, despite his troubled history, Woods’ blood was not tested for drugs or alcohol. Deputies at the scene simply took the golf great at face value when they asked if he’d used medication or been drinking before the crash. If this had been anyone else with a fairly recent DUI in the police data base, not to mention his previous SUV crash outside his home in 2009, warrants for blood samples would have been obtained and the tests administered. In Tiger’s world, the police believed him at face value, never mind that he was in a stupor after a crash of which he has no recollection.
“Those questions were asked and answered,’’ said Sheriff’s Capt. James Powers. “There was no evidence of any impairment. There was no odor of alcohol. There are no open containers in the vehicle and no narcotics or any evidence of medication in the vehicle or on his person.’’
So Woods couldn’t possibly have taken prescription drugs — say, earlier in his hotel room — only three weeks after undergoing his fifth back procedure in a life of surgical wards and medication? Why would police assume he wasn’t under the influence just because containers weren’t spotted inside the vehicle — a vehicle that was mangled, by the way, and couldn’t have offered much clarity amid the wreckage? We’re just supposed to accept this speculative rationale as gospel?
Further aspersions were cast when TMZ conducted a deep dive into a 22-page police report, which said sheriff’s deputies found an “empty plastic pharmaceutical container’’ inside a backpack close to the totaled vehicle. According to the report, “The container had no label and there was no indication as to what, if anything, had been inside.’’ Um, did they open the container and take a look? The report also indicated Woods was “somewhat combative,’’ telling emergency medical technicians that he believed he was in Florida. Eerily, he had told police during his 2017 pill bender that he thought he was in California.
Even Villanueva acknowledged Woods was endangering himself and others on the road, saying, “The primary causal factor for this traffic collision was driving at a speed unsafe for the road conditions and the inability to negotiate the curve of the roadway.’’ I mean, bystanders at a nearby resort, where Woods had stayed the previous night, have told the Los Angeles Times that he’d sped recklessly out of the parking lot en route to the ill-fated, early-morning film shoot. Wouldn’t they be considered witnesses?
Doesn’t matter. The investigation is over, says the sheriff, with Woods free to continue his long, excruciating rehabilitation in peace inside his mansion in Jupiter, Fla., the affluent village where he was found asleep at the wheel in a daze four years ago.
The legal system, in this case, has failed America. Tiger Woods ignored the road signs, tried to drag-race himself to an appointment and is very fortunate not to have arranged funerals for himself and others — the vehicular equivalent of holding a loaded gun. But the fix was in from the minute his 2021 Genesis GV80 settled in a twisted, smoking heap 70 feet from the road. Whether they were starstruck or sympathetic to the endless health and personal dramas that have disrupted Woods’ life, Villanueva and his obedient deputies investigated a horrific crash with all the seriousness of a litter violation. When they had every right to consider his drug history and be suspicious about his erratic driving, they refused to hold Woods accountable.
Meaning, I don’t want to be in the same zip code — or county, or state — the next time he drives an SUV. Having been given a break, Woods might push the pedal to 100.
The proper tone, according to the assembled fraternity at Augusta National, is to voice deep sorrow for Woods’ condition and hope that he’ll return to play competitively. Two of his closest friends on the PGA Tour, Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas, visited Woods at his home recently and reflect what the golf community feels as a whole: He is missed dearly.
“Spent a couple hours with him, which was nice. It was good to see him,” McIlroy said. “It was good to see him in decent spirits. When you hear of these things and you look at the car and you see the crash, you think he’s going to be in a hospital bed for six months. But he was actually doing better than that.”
Said Thomas: “I went over and saw him a couple times last week and try to go over whenever I’m home and see him. We texted Friday morning, and he said it’s kind of starting to set in. He’s bummed he’s not here playing practice rounds with us, and we hate it, too.”
I feel the same way about Woods, the all-time sportsman, except for the little thing about going 80-something in a 45 zone. I’m also braced for reality. Even if he resumes a normal walking function, which was becoming a problem before the crash, his days of battling for major and even minor championships are over. He’ll serve as a captain of a U.S. Ryder Cup team or two and help his son, Charlie, develop his promising golf skills through his teens. But with a club in his hands, Woods faces a future as a ceremonial player.
Golf will proceed without him. Yet as the first round showed Thursday, it’s unclear who, if anyone, will create interest among the masses. McIlroy hit his father with a wayward shot in what remains a perplexing career. Defending champion Dustin Johnson, on a course playing much more difficult than it did in October, struggled and shot 74. Jordan Spieth, the betting and sentimental fave, already was far behind leader Justin Rose. Bryson DeChambeau, lighter and supposedly smarter about crushing his way to glory, imploded with an early double bogey and bogey.
“I should ask him for an autographed glove,’’ said McIlroy, whose dad must be as mystified as the rest of us.
It only confirmed the obvious: Woods, in recovery, remains golf’s biggest story as the sport fades into meh-dom without him. We forget he has missed the Masters four times in eight years and that his famous final scene, in a life made for a movie, was his comeback victory at Augusta two years ago. Golf needs to move on from Tiger.
But whither Tiger without golf? At this point, his friends are trying to keep him alive and well. “What I want to do for him is just be like, `Dude, I’ll do anything you want,’ ’’ Thomas said. “If you need me to help out with your kids, I can do that. If you’re craving McDonald’s and you want me to bring it over, dude, I don’t care. I’m here for you, and I’ll help out however I can.’’
The unspoken concern at Augusta, of course, is that Woods is dealing with tragic life issues he refuses to address. Are his fellow golfers too intimidated to intervene with tough talk? It should bother his friends — and all of us — that Villanueva’s press conference was followed almost immediately by an online statement from Woods. Was the entire day orchestrated by Tiger and his control-freak agents? “In the last few days, I received word from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department that their investigation regarding my traffic accident back on February 23rd in Los Angeles has been completed and closed,’’ Woods wrote. “I am so grateful to both of the good Samaritans who came to assist me and called 911. I am also thankful to the LASD deputies and L.A. firefighter/paramedics, especially L.A. sheriff’s Deputy Carlos Gonzalez and LAFD Engine Co #106 fire paramedics Smith and Gimenez, for helping me so expertly at the scene and getting me safely to the hospital.’’
Sorry, but my first thought was that he’d cut a deal with the authorities. He publicly thanks them, they let him off. When the heart suggests we should feel compassion and encourage him to walk 72 holes again, amid the dogwoods and azaleas of Georgia, the mind says Tiger Woods was dangerously close to committing manslaughter. Even Herbert Warren Wind would know as much.
Asking The Right Questions Helps Create Interesting Content
Asking questions that can get a subject to talk about their feelings is a much better way to get an interesting answer.
When ESPN’s Mike Greenberg interviewed Paolo Banchero in the lead-up to the NBA lottery on Tuesday, he asked what I’ve concluded is the single most maddening question that can be asked of any athlete preparing for any draft.
“Why do you believe you should be No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft?” Greenberg said.
Before I point out exactly why I have such a visceral reaction to such a harmless question, I want to point out the positives because Greenberg’s question avoids some of the most common pitfalls:
1) It is an actual question. That’s not as automatic as you think given the number of poor souls who are handed a microphone and say to their subject, “Talk about (whatever issue they want a quote or a sound bite on).” This is the mark of an amateur, creating the opening for an uncooperative subject to slam the door by saying, “What do you want me to say?”
2) Greenberg’s question can not be answered with a yes or a no. Questions that start with the word “Can you …” or “Did you …” may sound like they’re tough questions for the subject, but they’re actually fairly easy if the subject wants to offer an answer. Now, most interview subjects won’t take that one-word exit, but some will in a touchy situation.
The problem with Greenberg’s question has to do with the result. Why do we ask questions of the athletes we cover? Seriously. That’s not rhetorical. What’s the goal? It’s to get interesting answers. At least that’s the hope whether it’s for a quote that will be included in a story, a sound bite to be replayed later or — like in this situation — during an interview that is airing live. The question should be engineered to elicit interesting content, and there was very little chance that the question Greenberg asked Banchero was going to produce anything close to that.
I know that because I have heard some version of this question asked hundreds of times. That’s not an exaggeration. I attended the NFL scouting combine annually for a number of years, and if a player wasn’t asked why he should be the first overall pick, he’d get asked why he should be a first-round pick or why he should be one of the first players chosen at his position. Never — in all that time — have I ever heard what would be considered an interesting or informative answer. In my experience, players tend to talk in incredibly general terms about their own abilities and then seek to compliment their peers in an effort to avoid coming off as cocky.
Here’s how Banchero answered Greenberg’s question: “Yeah, thank you all for having me, first off., I feel like I’m the number one pick in the draft because I’m the best overall player. I feel like I check all the boxes whether it’s being a great teammate, being the star player or doing whatever the coach needs. I’ve been a winner my whole life. Won everywhere I’ve went, and when I get to the NBA, that’s going to be the same goal for me. So just combining all those things, and knowing what I have to work on to be better is a formula for me.”
There’s nothing wrong with answer just as there was nothing wrong with the question. It’s just that both are really, really forgettable. ESPN did put a clip on YouTube with the headline “Paolo Banchero: I’m the best overall player in the NBA Draft | NBA Countdown” but I think I’m the only who will remember it and that’s only because I’m flapping my arms and squawking not because there was anything bad per se, but because there was nothing really good, either.
First of all, I’m not sure why it matters if Banchero thinks he should be the number one overall pick. He’s not going to be making that decision. The team that holds the top draft pick — in this case Orlando — is. Here’s a much better question: “How important is it for you to be the number one overall pick?” This would actually give an idea of the stakes for Banchero. What does this actually mean to him? Asking him why he should go number one is asking Banchero to tell us how others should see him. Asking Banchero how important it would be go number one is asking him to tell us about his feelings, something that’s much more likely to produce an interesting answer.
The point here isn’t to question Greenberg’s overall competence because I don’t. He’s as versatile a host as there is in the game, and anyone else in the industry has something to learn from the way he teases ahead to content. What I want to point out not just how we fail to maximize opportunities to generate interesting content, but why. Interviews are a staple of the sports-media industry. We rely on these interviews as both primary content that will be consumed directly, and as the genesis for our own opinions and reaction yet for all that importance we spend very little time thinking about the kind of answer this question is likely to produce.
The Client Just Said YES, Now What?
We should spend as much time on what we will do after the client says YES.
One of the most significant moments in radio sales is when the client agrees to your proposal and says YES. But, when they do say YES, do you know what’s next? We better have an answer!
We spend a lot of time getting ready for clients with research, spec spots (thank you, radio sales trainer Chris Lytle-go to 22:30), proposals, and meetings. All of our focus is on getting the client to say YES. We should spend as much time on what we will do after the client says YES. For example, getting newer sales reps to sell annual advertising contracts would be ideal for building a list. They would have less pressure, more job security, and could spend more time making the advertising work for their clients. But, since most newer reps don’t know the business yet, they don’t bite off more than they can chew and sell a package of the month.
When a client says yes to the weight loss promotion, it’s pretty clear how to write the ads, what the promos will say, etc. BUT, if a newer sales rep starts selling annual contracts to a direct local client who needs a resource, how will that work? Let’s make sure we paint the picture right upfront. More experienced reps know that they need to assume the client will say YES to the weight loss promo and have a plan accordingly.
They have the next steps to building copy and promos, a credit app or credit card payment form, and any other detail the client must provide. But, when we ask a direct local client for an annual advertising contract, watch out! You have just made a partnership. Why not lay out, upfront, what that will look like. And I understand not every local client needs the same level of service.
A car dealer has the factories pushing quarterly promotions, agencies producing ads, and in-house marketing directors pulling it all together sometimes. Other clients need your help in promotions, copywriting, or idea generation. Make a plan upfront with your client about when you will meet to discuss the next quarter’s ad program. Include your station’s promotions or inventory for football and basketball season, a summer NTR event, digital testimonials with on-air talent, etc., in your annual proposal. Go out as far as you can and show what you have to offer to the client and how you can execute it. This exercise is good for you and, once mastered, guides the client on how you will take care of them after the sale. It also opens your eyes to what it takes to have a successful client partnership inside and outside the station.
Media Noise – Episode 74
This week, Demetri is joined by Ian Casselberry and Ryan Brown. Demetri talks about the NBA Draft getting an ABC simulcast, Ian talks about Patrick Beverley’s breakout week on TV, and Ryan reminds us that Tom Brady may be the star, but Kevin Burkhardt is the story we shouldn’t forget.