In interviews with E:60 reporter Lisa Salters, Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson revealed himself to be thoughtful, modest, caring, and affable, with an endearing ability to laugh at himself.
But those qualities emerged only after Salters broke through the shyness that has kept Johnson’s off-field profile far below his mythical on-field profile as “Megatron”.
They weren’t total strangers. She had met him several years ago when she covered a Georgia Tech-Notre Dame game - he was 20 - and she reminded him of that. A shared memory broke the ice.
Salters lives in Atlanta, where Johnson makes his home in the off-season. They chatted about local neighborhoods, parks and restaurants. The ice began to melt.
“I like to find some common ground and go from there,” Salters says. “When people are shy the best thing you can do is make them feel comfortable.”
Turned out Johnson played the “Michael Jackson Experience” on his Ninetendo Wii. Ditto Salters. By now the ice was a puddle.
On camera, Salters’ manner was conversational and playful.
“My nature is to tease guys - he saw that,” Salters recalled. “I wanted it to be fun, more like hanging out than an interview.
“If you have notes in your hand, and you’re reading the questions, one by one, that’s not how people talk. My style is conversational, and if a subject veers on a tangent it can lead to material that doesn’t get used, but that’s how conversations go with most people.”
Salters has a rule of thumb: “Share a bit about yourself.”
In an interview with Eagles running back LeSean McCoy that has yet to run, McCoy spoke haltingly about his grandmother’s fatal battle with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease). Salters mentioned that the mother of one of her close friends also was stricken with ALS, with the same symptoms.
“The interview went from him telling his story to him helping me help my friend,” she recalled. “He opened up more, absolutely.”
As McCoy opened up he became more emotional.
“I could see LeSean feeling self-conscious and having a hard time controlling his emotions,” Salters recalled. “Once he went back to her illness and death he was really upset - even though it was two years ago he was upset all over again.
As a second rule of thumb, Salters recommends empathy.
“You have to show that you care about them, too,” she said. “You’re asking them to be personal and honest and to be very real. You have to show that you’re hearing them, and you’re feeling with them.
“When they’re telling me something I’m feeling exactly what they’er feeling, as much as they give me. I end up walking out emotionally drained, too. You don’t want to tell somebody something personal and not feel they are impacted.
“It’s kind of like being a psychiatrist. You have to make them feel safe like a psychiatrist does. The environment has to be non-judgmental and safe. Nobody will share unless they feel safe. If they feel like you are a million miles away, not really serious or trying to get to dinner, you’re not going to get anywhere.”
Posted by Steve Marantz, September 6, 2012