Off topic: How a PSU faculty adviser inspired Wally Richardson 30 years ago to maximize his words | Jones

Because his mother and father were employed as educators, Wally Richardson had an advantage. When he came to Penn State as a freshman in 1992, he already understood the value of articulate speech.

Still, like most 18-year-olds, he needed a little help getting there. That boost came right away in the person of a PSU faculty advisor named Sandy Meyer:

“She was convinced that when you spoke to reporters, no one needed to hear the ‘you know’ and ‘like’ in your speech,” Richardson told me on Tuesday. “I just remember she made a big deal of that stuff in her class. Sandy was an English teacher by trade. And she was obsessed with speaking and writing English correctly. It was his specialty. »

A few days ago, I saw the two chatting on social media and noticed their affinity for each other. That’s when I got the idea that this might be a candidate for a slice of Off topic. They are still friends 30 years after the Penn State quarterback took Meyer’s course. On Tuesday, Richardson explained why:

“It helped me to be conscious and conscious of the image I wanted to give when talking to journalists. I didn’t want to be the ‘you know’.

Now 48, Richardson has been manager of PSU Football Lettermen’s Club for nine years. He organizes events on campus and at bowling venues for former Nittany Lions, speaks to groups in many of them, monitors the Lettermen’s sideline and lounge during games, and ensures that as many former players and managers as possible participate in the current programme. Especially since they will contribute time and money down the road. It is important work.

And Richardson credits Meyer’s leadership in her class for first-year athletes with sowing the seeds of her communication skills:

“I think it helped me do my job. I never meant to embarrass my family through anything I said or did. It’s hard to do. But I had a deep respect for my parents.

“I realized that if I could help do that by speaking effectively, I wanted to do it. And that was something within my control. There was no outside force that was stopping me from accomplishing that.

It is such a simple premise yet so overlooked by so many people of all ages. Maybe it was the start of television in the 1950s. Or you can blame the internet in the 1990s or social media soon after. But clearly, Americans seem less literate than ever and less proficient at communicating ideas. It was gratifying to hear two people, one a former PSU starting quarterback who found a successful career, the other his former coach, reaffirm that.

“Because it was so important to her, I thought it was important,” Richardson said. “Most people can talk to the press and say ‘uh’ and ‘you know’ and ‘like’, but that’s a distinguishing feature if you don’t. You might be more in demand than the next one.

But he just admitted that when he was a player he didn’t want to be there in front of the microphones and cameras anyway.

“Yes, but when I was there I needed to maximize what I was doing.”

I’ve had a casual acquaintance with Meyer for about as long as Richardson, having first spoken with her while doing a story about PSU basketball star John Amaechi in the mid-90s. caught up on Tuesday while in Las Vegas at a meeting of her professional organization of which she was national president – the National Association of Academics and Student-Athlete Development Professionals. Honestly, someone decided on this name. They wisely go by the acronym N4A.

Meyer has been retired from PSU since 2013, but still has a fondness for all the people she had a unique job with in common – trying to convince a wide range of student-athletes that it’s in their interests to hone their skills. in communication. One way is to learn to think before you speak. Another is to eliminate nonsense fillers from their sentences, both spoken and written.

Why is the use of language in clear communication important? Why is it valued in people who can do it? Because in a world of uninterrupted text where punctuation is perceived as stilted, where people constantly pepper their speech with meaningless sounds, those who can succinctly communicate clear ideas are increasingly rare. As Meyer said:

“The way you communicate with others says a lot about who you are. Be careful of what you say. Think about what you say before you say it.

Meyer referenced a business writing course she taught, taken by many PSU athletes:

“I used to tell them: Corporate America uses standard English. Knowing who your audience is is important; that’s the big problem.

“So, for example, let’s say you’re a basketball player and you’re interviewed after the game and you use the jargon and slang that you would use with your teammates in the locker room, that’s not your audience. Those are people who are not your friends.

As an instructor, Meyer taught a freshman seminar for student-athletes titled “Coping With College.” His intention was to explore all the various verbal interactions they might have – with professors, with potential employers, with journalists.

It resonated with Richardson and he never forgot it. When Meyer asked him to return four years later in his fifth season (in redshirt) as the Lions starting quarterback to speak with his new generation of freshmen, he agreed. A freshman athlete asked him how he dealt with criticism in various newspapers, especially The Collegian, during what has been an up and down season. Meyer said she still remembers Richardson’s response: “I don’t read it.”

It was easier in 1996 with the Internet in its infancy and non-existent social media. Could a gamer with a phone avoid reading or being told about hurtful words now?

But Richardson’s belief in using his own words never wavered. He told me yesterday why what started out as some kind of survival course turned into a verbal way of life:

“I wasn’t just representing myself, but my family and Penn State and I didn’t want to be a bad representative of those. If it could help me be the best version of myself and represent the people that matter to me, I wanted to do it.

“If you’re aware of something that might be holding you back from having opportunities on the road, something you can practice and improve on, why not do it?”

When the opportunity presented itself, Richardson was ready. He first held a position similar to the one he currently holds at the University of Georgia before returning to PSU nine years ago. And the “commitment” is in the job description:

“There are times when I need to talk to guys and their families, and I feel confident to do so. Growing up, I took great pride in spelling words correctly – before Spellcheck was one thing. I was able to write articles and edit them. Personally, I pride myself on being competent in my daily work.

There were two good reasons at home in South Carolina: His mother taught high school there for 30 years. His father was a school administrator, for a time a district superintendent.

“If I hadn’t met expectations in class, I wouldn’t have been able to participate in sports. That’s how important it was to them. »

Still, it’s easy to see why tired athletes can fall into weary, vague sentences that say next to nothing after a grueling 3.5-hour game. Richardson recalls that he could have simply filled in the time rather than using it to reflect and construct serious answers to probing questions:

“It might be difficult because you don’t want the press to know everything about you. At least I didn’t. Maintenance is one of the last things you want to do. After the game is over, you want to take a shower and spend time with your family and teammates. So when you rush on it, that’s what would happen to me. I would be caught in a verbal rut.

Uhhs and likes and you know. They become placeholders for real thoughts. Unfortunately, they can also become bad habits. Richardson sees it in millennials:

“Young adults often communicate too much about what they’re trying to say and yet it’s still not clear. You can message people again and again and still the meaning is not received. Texts with sentences all written together. Periods might not be involved. And I see it in the younger generation.

“It bothers me. It’s my own family sometimes. And it drives me crazy. Then I wonder if they know how to write properly.

Maybe they could all use a Sandy Meyer. It has been 26 years since he graduated in December 1996. What she sowed in him lives on:

“It gave me confidence to know that I can speak well in front of people. That what I articulate would be understood.

“I am still far from where I need to be in the field of communication. But I know it’s something that doesn’t happen overnight. You have to work on it constantly.

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