Lax team learns to adapt to media frenzy

Over the past 10 months, Duke's men's lacrosse players have faced a media blitz unlike anything their sport has ever seen.

At the epicenter of what rapidly became a story that transfixed the nation, the Blue Devils went from answering straightforward questions about wins and losses to fielding difficult inquiries relating to larger issues of race, sex and privilege in college athletics.

What was at first a trial-by-fire for the players, however, has morphed into an educated, organized approach to the coverage that continues to surround the team. In an effort to more effectively deal with the media, the Blue Devils have established new rules and sought outside counsel to better prepare the team for the difficult questions the players continue to face.

"No one, as far as I know, has had to go through this kind of firestorm before," senior co-captain Ed Douglas said. "Before, you're commenting about lacrosse, and there's not too much in the way of interpretation there.... But when you're talking about larger issues, like on campus or dealing with the administration, there certainly are some things that you want to be careful about."

As part of the team's new procedures regarding the media, all interview requests must go through Duke's Sports Information Department, and the only players currently authorized to speak to the media are Douglas, fellow senior captain Matt Danowski and seniors Tony McDevitt and Casey Carroll.

Head coach John Danowski said the team decided early on to have a few spokesmen for the program, settling on four seniors whom he felt have exhibited particularly strong leadership qualities. The coach also said the team has had to be especially careful about its public comments considering the ongoing legal case involving three former players.

"There's certain things that we're not able to talk about because we don't want to hurt the three students and their families," Danowski said. "The only things that we've ducked, so to speak, are anything we think would harm the boys and their families."

In an effort to arm the Blue Devils' four senior spokesmen with a sound approach to the media, Art Chase, Duke's sports information director, brought in a media relations expert to help the players learn how to deal with the tough questions. In August, Scott Pryzwansky, a consultant who specializes in media training and has worked with several different college athletic programs including Duke football, gave a session of general advice to the team before meeting privately with the spokesmen.

Pryzwansky provided Douglas, Danowski, McDevitt and Carroll with tips and training on how to handle different situations with the media, as well as techniques they could use while answering questions.

"You can't always control the questions but you can always control the answers," Pryzwansky said. "Sometimes your answers can lead to what the questions will be as your interview continues on."

During the session, Pryzwansky and the players especially focused on developing words and phrases that were legally acceptable but still conveyed the players' feelings.

"You've got to watch your step because anything you do can be held against you in a court of law," Matt Danowski said. "Anything you say can be twisted and bent to however the media wants to make it seem, so you have to be very careful with your words."

With the start to the season less than two weeks away, the Blue Devils should be well prepared for the media resurgence that will likely occur when Duke takes on Dartmouth Feb. 24. Once the season begins, more players will again become available to the media, John Danowski said.

"If a player scores five goals, or makes 10 saves or wins a lot of faceoffs they certainly can step up and speak," Danowski said. "We just want to make sure that the media doesn't seize the opportunity to start talking about things that just aren't relevant to the game."

But after dealing with a seemingly unending train of questions, cameras and comments for almost a year, the team has gotten used to it.

"I'm sure if there's some sort of circus outside the first game guys will look at it, but I don't think it will come down to any sort of a serious distraction," Matt Danowski said. "There's nothing to be nervous about anymore."


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