SEC Network’s Antoine Walker needs to learn there’s no team in ‘we’

Five minutes into the SEC Network’s signature show, airing live Friday from the SEC men’s basketball tournament in St. Louis, the host and two analysts had to remind fellow analyst Antoine Walker of something.

“We’re professionals!”

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The SEC Network’s Antoine Walker via Wikimedia Commons.

The joking rebuke was in response to Walker having just referred to the Kentucky Wildcats as “we” and “our.”

It was sort of like what happens in my journalism classes when a student keeps saying the same dumb thing and the rest of the class finally has enough and decides to shut him down.

Why does it matter if Walker can’t be objective, you might ask. For just the reason the other analysts, Daymeon Fishback and Pat Bradley, were giving. Walker is supposed to evaluate SEC basketball. He isn’t employed by ESPN’s regional network to be a cheerleader for his big blue alma mater.

It’s a journalism thing. He’s a professional. Or supposed to be.

But it’s become something of a running joke when Walker’s on air that if he’s asked an open-ended question like who will win the tournament, he always answers “Kentucky.”

Granted, there’s a fine line that might be hard for a homer like Walker to avoid tripping over. The SEC Network analysts are touted for their college experience: Fishback at Auburn, Bradley at Arkansas, for example. 

Walker needs to listen to his fellow talking heads and notice what they do — and don’t. Fishback talks knowledgeably about Auburn — both the current SEC co-champion team and the school’s basketball history. He should — he is a part of it. Still, he never becomes an Auburn cheerleader on air. Not coincidentally, he’s the network’s best at talking basketball.

Does Walker need more role models? During football season, Greg McElroy bends over backward to treat every team the same way he does Alabama where he quarterbacked the 2010 National Championship.

Over at big brother ESPN, Jay Bilas calls ACC game after ACC game (after ACC game). He seems to try even harder to be even-handed when his former school, Duke, plays arch rival North Carolina.

If somebody from another planet was given a recording of a Bilas-called UNC vs. Duke game, I contend the alien would never know Bilas played for Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski.

So Antoine, take note. You’re a professional.

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You might think of this as my letter never sent to Michael Stipe, R.E.M.

“I am tired of second guessing.” — R.E.M.

In the news business, you sometimes get the opportunity to interview famous folks. By my third or fourth time doing it, my insides would start to pitch and tumble like wet clothes in a dryer as interview time approached.

I had learned by then celebrities sometimes react to interviews like they’re uncooperative witnesses being asked by a judge, “Where were you when the prostitute’s body was found?”

Over the years, I developed some strategies for getting them to engage. Sometimes I upped the dosage of Southern in my accent or dropped in some “y’alls” or “yes sirs”/”yes ma’ams” — or if things were going really poorly, all of those things.

I’m not sure why they work, but they do sometimes.

Also, a little flattery can do it. And some big names will perk up if you show you actually know something about their music or their TV show or some member of their band.

Another approach that takes some creative thought and strategic planning is to say something attention-grabbing they haven’t heard before — a funny line, a unique observation or an oddball personal anecdote.

Not just any oddball anecdote, though; it has to involve them somehow. It once worked with Ira Glass at a public radio fundraising reception. I put my arm around Jennifer and told him his first movie was our second date.

He raised his eyebrows, looked me straight in the eyes and didn’t say a word for a couple of seconds. “Really?” he finally said, his voice shooting up. “That movie usually has the opposite affect on couples.”

I’m pretty sure it was his most memorable conversation of the night.

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Our waiter said Michael Stipe came to the restaurant somewhat regularly, but I didn’t think to ask the waiter if Mr. Stipe minded interruptions.

I’m not quite so sure any of those things work if you sidle up to a table and make uninvited conversation, which is one of the reasons I didn’t try that on Michael Stipe the night we found ourselves sitting a few tables away from him in Manhattan.

But if I had, I would have told him this in my best Southern accent: R.E.M. came to Tuscaloosa in 1984. I was a big fan. But one afternoon, propped up on my dorm room loft bed, I had given it some thought and told my roommate, Chip, I thought $10 was too much to pay for a concert ticket. I guess he agreed because we didn’t go.

I might have added that I regret it to this day. I’d like to go back to 1984 and slap some sense into my 21-year-old self. Since I can’t do that, I make it a point to go to the concerts of everybody I like so Tuscaloosa, 1984, never happens again.

P.S. I sat on the edge of my seat the entire night, so close to jumping off and walking over. Do you think my story of Tuscaloosa 1984 would have engaged him? Tell me what you think.

Concerts I did see in Tuscaloosa between 1983 and 1986*

  1. Oingo Boingo
  2. X
  3. The Go-Go’s
  4. Jason and the Scorchers
  5. Cheap Trick

 

*All were free. I guess I was just a cheapskate.