James Franklin at an Aug. 6, 2022 press conference. Penn State football head coach James Franklin listens to a question from a member of the media during football media day at Beaver Stadium on Saturday, August 6, 2022, in State College. (Dan Rainville/York Daily Record, via USA Today Sports.)

This story contains discussion of suggestions of suicide. If you or someone you know needs help, the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline can be reached at *988 or 988lifeline.org.

The last decade-plus has seen quite an evolution in the availability of press conferences to the general public. For much of the history of press conferences, all those not in the room would experience was what the journalists and/or public relations staffers who were there decided to relay in their own forums. But the rise of Twitter (founded in 2006, but it only gained wide adoption later) led to many journalists live-tweeting key moments and quotes from press conferences as they happened, and the rise of conference networks and live-streaming led to many press conferences being aired live in full to the public. And that’s led to a lot of discussion of not just coaches’ and athletes’ responses, but also the questions asked by particular journalists, with Cory Giger of DKPittsburghSports.com the latest to experience that Tuesday.

Giger covers the Penn State Nittany Lions football team for that website (which former Pittsburgh Tribune-Review columnist Dejan Kovacevic started in 2015 as a local subscription play; it’s been through several controversies since then around Kovacevic’s interactions with staffers, and also transitioned to an advertising/sponsor-supported model this year). During Penn State coach James Franklin’s media session Tuesday, Franklin praised quarterback Drew Allar’s ability to check down and make safer throws when deep options are covered. That led to Giger asking about a balance of encouraging Allar to throw deep, and Franklin responded in strong terms, saying “it’s like you’re speaking from Mars” and it’s “like you’re speaking Japanese” (to a follow-up attempt to clarify), which led to a lot of fans mocking Giger’s questions:

Here’s the transcription of that exchange, via Arthur Weinstein at AA sister site The Comeback:

“That’s extremely valuable as a play-caller when you have a guy that will allow you to call shots, not force the ball down the field, and take the back as a check-down,” Franklin said.

…“Is there a balance though, between ‘Hey, we need you to throw the ball deep … just take a shot?’” the reporter asked. “Don’t overthink it, take a shot, we need to see it, we’re going to call it and we need you to get some confidence in doing this …”

…“I don’t really understand what you’re saying, because we would never — like my skin is crawling when you say just drop back and chuck it deep no matter what,” Franklin said. “That is like, I don’t even know what you’re saying, it’s like you’re speaking from Mars.”

[Giger] tried to clarify his question, referencing past Nittany Lions receiving stars and asking if Franklin might let Allar air it out.

“I still don’t know — like you’re speaking Japanese,” Franklin said. “We’ve never done that. Just throw the ball up and maybe he’ll be open and maybe he’ll catch it. You’re making me uncomfortable, I don’t know what you’re talking about, so we would not do that. We would never do that.

“No. Strong no. Like, yeah, no. I’m hoping we can cut this out so this doesn’t even get into the universe.”

After that, Giger took a lot of criticism for that. And he addressed that Tuesday night, admitting “I asked a bad question.” But he also said that led to suggestions that he should commit suicide or be murderered:

In the wake of that, Giger received a lot of support from prominent journalists. Here are a few of those tweets:

Again, this is something that probably wouldn’t have been an issue at all 20 years ago or more, with a particular question from a press conference either going unremarked or maybe at most receiving a slight writeup in other journalists’ pieces. But it’s a different environment now, and that matters for coaches and athletes as well as reporters; those subjects know their remarks are going out live, which can lead to them interacting differently (also true of live locker room video). It matters for reporters as well, though, and reporters in press conferences should always be aware that their questions to a player or coach may be seen by a wide audience (and even for those not initially watching the press conference live).

With all that said, though, sending threats or suggestions of self-harm to a reporter seems well beyond the pale in any circumstance. And that’s perhaps even more true when that’s just about a question the reporter asked.

And it should also be remembered that for print/written digital content in particular, the focus is generally not on the reporter’s question, which usually isn’t even presented (unless it’s for an article that’s specifically presented as a Q+A), so even “bad” questions can work if they produce notable responses. But, as Layden noted above, some of those exchanges work better as one-on-one discussions rather than press conference questions.

At any rate, it’s unfortunate that some people reacted to Giger’s question this way. Criticizing a reporter’s question is one thing, and that absolutely can be fair (and is even sometimes done by athletes). But that shouldn’t lead to threats or suggestions of self-harm.

[Cory Giger on Twitter]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.