Pretty much all of Western New York was upset over the fact that the Buffalo Bills cut running back Fred Jackson. All over social media there were videos of children breaking down and crying over their favorite player no longer with their favorite team.
Since then Tim Graham of The Buffalo News reported that two sources told him that Bills General Manager Doug Whaley went “Rogue” when cutting Jackson. However, some have criticized Graham over the validity of the report. So, here is my insight into the whole situation.
As a person with a Master’s of Science in Public Relations, the first thing that they teach is whatever comes up in the press it’s your job to handle it and defuse it. In the National Football League the job starts the minute that the news breaks.
When I was an undergraduate at Buffalo State College, I had the pleasure of hearing three speakers in my sports reporting course, which was taught by The Buffalo News’ Alan Pergament. Two of the three were The Buffalo News’ Tim Graham and Mark Gaughan. The third was Buffalo Bills Senior Vice President of Communication Scott Berchtold.
Before I go on I must tell you this. In the world of journalism you typically do what the source asks you. So, what I’m about to tell you is breaking that cardinal rule, but considering all the circumstances lately, I feel it’s well worth it.
It was the summer of 2011 and I just finished last fulltime semester as an undergraduate. I had only two courses to go to complete my Bachelors of Arts in journalism and media production. One of the course offerings that summer was sports reporting, which to my surprise in the course catalog it said Alan Pergament.
Like many of you reading, my knowledge of Mr. Pergament came from reading The Buffalo New. In the news typically he wrote columns about the media, so the first thing that came into my mind was why he’s teaching a sports reporting course. The answer came within the very first days as he revealed that at Tbe Buffalo News he was first a sports reporter and transferred to his current position at the request of his superiors.
Of course that immediately got my attention and I wondered to myself if he would bring in some of his connections or colleagues to guest speak at my classes.
A few weeks later those questions proved to be right. The first and third was Graham and Gaughan, who provided great insight to the industry. However, it was the second speaker in Berchtold that provided to me the most insight into the NFL.
The one thing that I was surprised at was what he during the final stages of the game and just after.
During the final stages of a game he would go up to the media and confirm who they would want to speak to. This gave him the necessary knowledge and insight to what was come as a longtime veteran of the NFL he knew how the media operated and how to diffuse a situation before the player ever stepped up to the podium.
Once Berchtold confirmed who the media wanted to talk to, he would grab the player. It was in this short period of time from the player’s locker to the podium that he works his magic.
“Every time that I walk with a player up to the podium I always go over things,” Berchtold said. “I would remind him to thank his teammates, the coaching staff and others. I did this in order to get the player to snap and sound off before they ever reached the podium, because the media asks the same question five different ways to aggravate a player and get what they really are thinking.”
One of the most memorable moments to Berchtold came in the 1990s after a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. On one of the key plays there seemed to be pass interference, which Kelly vehemently thought. Of course Berchtold did his usual spiel to elicit a response from Kelly, who he knew before hand was upset about, and worked as Kelly snapped and replied he knew what he was doing.
However, on that fateful day Berchtold’s tactics failed.
“On my way up to the podium I did my usual thing,” Berchtold said. “I told Jim to thank his offensive line, his coaches and not to say anything about the referees. I knew he would snap, which he did, but that day things didn’t work.”
One of the media’s tactics is to ask the same question in various forms to elicit a emotional response from a player in order to get his true feelings. With the Bills under Berchtold that is very rare as Berchtold is good at what he does. However, that day was one of the few to have failed him.
“After I got a response from Jim he went up to the podium,” Berchtold continued. ‘ He answered all the media’s questions, but they came back to the play that there should have been a pass interference. Eventually, Jim gave me a look he had enough and then snapped and criticized the officials and get a fine from the NFL.”
So why am I saying this? Berchtold is a veteran of the NFL of over 25 years. His tenure starts before the Bills even went to four straight Superbowls. In other words he is very good at his job.
Why do you think when Graham reported Whaley went “Rogue” that the Bills in the media would show a unified front?
The answer is simply because Berchtold knows how to handle the media and more importantly how to make a scandal slip through the media cycle with very little coming back to the team. The evidence is what Whaley said yesterday.
“Let’s put it this way,” Whaley said. “I gather information from everybody, from the running backs coach to the offensive coordinator to the head coach and the owners. I wouldn’t be in this position – especially with new ownership – I’m going to include them. That’s my boss. We wouldn’t make a decision without them.”
In other words, Whaley gathered information from his roster and came to a decision that the team would be better off with Jackson cut and the money spent elsewhere.