Friday, October 10, 2014

No Comment

Here's the worst thing that happened on Tuesday when Union head coach Rick Bennett was addressing the media on the semi-lengthy suspensions handed out to three Union upperclassmen.

From a video shot by the Daily Gazette:

Reporter: Is this a legal matter involved here?

Bennett: No comment.

There's no worse response to a request for a statement of fact - or worse, a yes or no question - than "no comment." None. All it does is make everyone wonder why you won't say yes or no.

If it wasn't a legal matter, it would be easy enough to simply say so. Therefore, if it's not something that can be immediately denied, there's obviously some truth to it.

Saying "no comment" is always a comment - the comment is that you don't want to answer the question. Depending on the nature of the question being responded to, it can quickly lead to some obvious assumptions as to what the answer is.

Let's look at a couple of examples from the recent ECAC past.

A few years ago, Brown head coach Brendan Whittet was being asked about the officiating in an RPI-Brown game at Houston Field House - during the playoffs, I believe. There was a question about the validity of a goal that the Engineers scored, and Whittet responded with "no comment."

It was a response that made sense for everyone. Reporters understood immediately that Whittet was really saying. "Yeah, I thought that goal was nonsense, but I'm not going to complain about it here because coaches get suspended by the league for showing up referees." Whittet gets his point across without having to sit out a game.

The difference here is that Whittet was being asked for a statement of opinion, not a statement of fact.

Even Bennett himself has properly used "no comment." Last year after the Mayor's Cup brawl (popularly known in the Secret Underwater Lair as the "FU at the TU"), Bennett was asked why he went after Seth Appert in the post-game press conference, and he said "no comment."

It works here because he was being asked to divulge information that, unless he's already told someone else, no one else would know. If someone decides not to bear personal knowledge for public scrutiny, "no comment" ends up shutting down the only path to that knowledge.

Whether the suspended Union players are involved in a legal matter is not something that would be limited in that fashion. They either are, or they aren't, and if one can't answer a binary question, anyone with any degree of curiosity about the situation (like, say, reporters) will immediately consider why either answer would draw stonewalling. If they aren't, why would that be something that would be covered up? The opposite question, of course, is easy to answer.

Here's the way Bennett should have handled things if he didn't want to tip his hand here.

Reporter: Is this a legal matter involved here?

Bennett: This is a matter of three players that did something that was in violation of team rules and they have been assessed consequences for their violations, which they fully understand was detrimental to the entire program. They're taking accountability for what they have done and as a program we're moving on from what they did.

Assuming that a legal matter was indeed involved, and getting involved in legal matters is indeed a violation of team rules, this response isn't untrue. If you look closely, you'll notice it doesn't answer the question, but it looks and sounds far less evasive.

Bottom line, if you can't (or don't want to) flatly state the truth, dazzle them with BS. Don't ever look like you're dodging a simple question.

Instead, the response of "no comment" just fans the flames even more, and makes reporters want to dig under the wall - and when they find out what's going on, whether it's a big deal or not, suddenly it's not just the incident in question that is a problem. The cover-up becomes just as important.

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