President’s column: Recognizing the value of the press

By Matt Fortuna

Some coaches understand our jobs. Some don’t. But it’s always encouraging to see the two things that I saw on Saturday in Minneapolis.

2019 FWAA President Matt Fortuna

One of the youngest coaches in the country championed our cause, a rarity during this troubled era of public mistrust. And, as importantly, that coach used the biggest game day platform he has ever had to make his pro-media statement.

We bring you P.J. Fleck, whose unconventional methods have Minnesota at 9-0 for the first time in 115 years. This comes three years after he took Western Michigan to the Cotton Bowl.

The 38-year-old was wrapping up his postgame press conference after the Golden Gophers’ monumental win over Penn State when he took a minute to acknowledge the benefits of doing what he does in such a big market.

“Thank you all for being here, thanks for covering us,” Fleck said. “Thank you for all the things you put in the paper, whether it’s criticism or whether it’s positive. You have a job to do, and I respect that whole-heartedly. You’re teaching our young players about life — how to handle the adversity, how to handle the critics, how to handle the success. You’re doing your job at an elite level. You are. Because you’re shaping our young men of how to handle all that.

“Some people don’t get the training like you do here at the University of Minnesota. Some places protect people or they protect the team. You take it for exactly what it’s worth, and our players get to grow up in that. They get to see real world articles and real world opinions. That means a lot to me, so thank you so much for helping our team grow up.”

Kudos to Fleck for understanding how to promote his product, along with recognizing how many programs usually harm their players by not letting them face the music after a good or bad performance. Life is not always easy. College is not always easy, especially when carrying the pressure of trying to deliver for teammates, coaches and fans at a time in your life when you are maturing in front of a public audience.

Most of these guys have pro dreams, though, and they are not going to receive the kid-glove treatment once they make it there. Some of them won’t make it that far as football players, and that’s OK, too, because there are other ways to make positive impressions on prospective employers. (I know of two recently-graduated Notre Dame football players I have covered who are not in the NFL but earned attractive job opportunities as direct results of the way they handled themselves in public speaking settings.)

Fleck expanded on this philosophy a little bit more when I sat with him in his office afterward, saying: “I think we live in a very real media market, which I think is really healthy for our student-athletes, because they get they get pressure and expectations put on them like pro teams. And that’s only going to help them for the real world.”

How refreshing.