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Derek Jeter on how to avoid bad press: Say ‘I don’t know’ and ‘no comment’ often

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Save for a handful of semi-salacious stories hitting the back pages of New York’s infamous daily tabloids — beginning and ending with the infamous “gift basket for romantic conquests” rumor, something he denies to this day — Derek Jeter mostly avoided being in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons during his 20-year career under the bright lights of the big city.

His ability to avoid negative press is all the more impressive in light of the fact that he was New York’s biggest sports star a majority of those two decades, not to mention having the reputation of being something of a playboy lady-killer throughout his career.

Jeter obviously had savvy in spades when it pertained to dealing with the notoriously aggressive New York media and he recently shared a few secrets to his long run of success when it came to avoiding bad press.

The retired Yankees captain made an appearance Wednesday night at Hamilton College in upstate New York for a speaking engagement. Jeter revealed to the over 5,000 people in the audience that there are two highly nondescript and ultimately boring phrases that should be part of the rhetorical arsenal of any individual who has frequent dealings with the media.

“There’s two things you can always say to the media: one is, you have no comment. There’s no follow-up to that,” Jeter said, per a New York Daily News report. “The second thing I think most people get in trouble with, they’re afraid to say, ‘I don’t know.’ If you ask me a question and I say, ‘I don’t know,’ how are you going to follow it up?”

During a Q&A session that followed, Jeter was asked by MLB Network and FOX Sports analyst Harold Reynolds how he handled the New York tabloids if and when a salacious or unflattering story happened to be published. Simply stated, Jeter said he just ignored it.

“I don’t address it. There’s been so many things that have been written. Some of it’s funny,” he said. “I try not to read the papers. I probably read them a little more now that I’m not playing. The negativity is something I don’t want in my mind. I don’t comment on it, because I think once you comment once, you have to continue to comment.

“I’ve been engaged, I think, three or four times. I was just supposedly getting married a month ago,” Jeter added.

Jeter also revealed how he dealt with the repetitive nature of dealing with reporters day after day, often enduring the same question being posed to him repeatedly.

“I’ve heard that quite a bit about myself, that I don’t say anything. My response to that is, ‘I keep getting asked the same questions,’” he said. “So if you ask me the same questions, then obviously I’m going to give you the same answer.

“It was simple to me, if I don’t know something, I don’t know.”

An amusing incident occurred during Wednesday’s appearance that highlighted how Jeter is still among the best at remaining in control, even in potentially stressful situations.

Jeter was asked if he was using the audio equipment properly, which elicited a shout of “Take it off!” from a female member of the audience.

Not missing a beat, Jeter cracked, “It’s too cold up here at Hamilton College.”

When asked by Reynolds immediately following the impromptu audience participation portion of the evening what it’s like to be a sex symbol, Jeter once again displayed his savvy unflappability.

I don’t know,” said Jeter.

He’s still got it.

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