Negative offseason headlines not new for SEC commissioner Greg Sankey
HOOVER, Ala. — Commissioner Greg Sankey praised the SEC quite liberally throughout his opening statement.
What he didn’t do, however, was spend much time answering questions Monday from media members who patiently waited to hear him talk. Following just five questions, Sankey exited stage right.
Quoting everyone from The Byrds to Nelson Mandela to Vanderbilt safety Oren Burks, Sankey waxed poetic about all the good things happening in the best conference in America — and deservedly so. Not just on the field, but off the field the 14 member institutions continue to do great things for student-athletes.
But the Q&A quickly morphed into a conversation about the SEC maybe having an image problem at this point.
RELATED: SEC Media Days Notebook, Day 1
Mississippi State freshman defensive end Jeffery Simmons was allowed to enroll despite video surfacing of him beating a woman. Tennessee settled a sexual-assault case, paying eight women a total of $2.48 million.
Sankey did his best to be diversionary, celebrating the likes of Jeremy Foley and Verne Lundquist — the late Pat Summitt, too — before the floor was opened up for questions, but remember he was talking to a room full of football writers. Football writers want to talk about football and football-related issues.
At no time did Sankey mention Simmons by name. His answers on the subject were vague and indirect at best.
“Everyone in the SEC must understand the high expectations for their conduct and the high level of scrutiny their conduct attracts,” Sankey said.
Admittedly, this is my first time covering the event. Nevertheless, my career in the NFL put me in a room with commissioner Roger Goodell on many occasions. His media sessions at the Super Bowl are quite lengthy.
The moment Sankey walked off the stage, there was a feeling of confusion — really? he’s done already? — in Wynfrey Room C. Understand that I’m far from bashful when it comes to asking questions of high-profile people in high-profile situations. I kept my hand down for a while assuming my chance would come later.
That opportunity never came. I expected more from my first interaction with Sankey. And I wasn’t alone.
Yes, the media can be cynical. Writers like myself are criticized for spending too much time focusing on negative stories, not enough time focusing on positive stories. But we’re reporters. We’re not a PR firm.
With the fifth and final question, a reporter asked Sankey to speak on his comfort with regard to college players potentially making public protests on social issues before games like some professional athletes — e.g., the Miami Heat, the St. Louis Rams — have recently. Sankey offered a single-word response: “No.”
After a long, deliberate, awkward pause, Sankey then rattled off a candid answer with one foot off the stage.
“I want SEC teams to win every possible championship and I want us to be victorious in the absolute right way,” he said confidently in the middle of his opening statement.
There’s a game of public relations being played in Hoover. But Sankey’s SEC is trailing on my early scoreboard.