Why you should care
Because sports should be about action, not canned reactions.
A year ago, the dream season enjoyed by the Carolina Panthers and their star quarterback Cam Newton turned into a nightmare during a crushing loss to the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 50. And no sporting nightmare would be complete without throngs of reporters asking the participants to revisit its attendant horrors immediately afterward. “They just played better than us,” said the near-catatonic league MVP at one point before walking out of the postgame press conference. “I don’t know what you want me to say.”
What got lost in Newton’s abrupt exit was the other side of the exchange. Fresh off losing the biggest game of your life, what would you say to such inane queries as “Can you put into words the disappointment you feel?” A question for which Newton had a two-word answer — “We lost” — before winding up the whole affair with another two: “I’m done.”
— NFL (@NFL) February 8, 2016
And done is exactly what we should all be when it comes to the pointless ritual of postgame interviews in sports. As we ramp up for the spectacle of another Super Bowl, and its media day (now prime-time evening) appetizer, it’s time we put the perennial non-question to the sports media itself: “Talk about what you were thinking after the game last night.”
“You have to learn your clichés,” veteran catcher Crash Davis counsels young pitching phenom Nuke LaLoosh in Bull Durham. “They’re your friends.” And generations of athletes and coaches have the clichés down pat — so much so that almost every interview descends into a let’s-take-it-one-day-at-a-time meaninglessness. And yet almost every sports reporter continues to pursue these zero-calorie sound bites.
Veteran sportswriter Will Leitch, author of God Save the Fan and other books, is one of the few reporters to publicly acknowledge that the presser has no clothes on. In a Sports on Earth article on Jordan Spieth’s dramatic collapse at last year’s Masters Tournament, Leitch described the artificial “Kabuki”-style theater of the golfer’s press conference in which the assembled reporters hovered, as with Newton, hoping for a soul-revealing moment after a crushing defeat. Leitch himself avoids asking questions at press conferences, arguing he has no idea “what question I could ask that would elicit any sort of meaningful, introspective, enlightening answer that would tell us much about the event we just witnessed.”
It’s little wonder that bored, frustrated athletes like Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch have taken to stonewalling reporters’ “can you talk about” questions with equally bland “thanks for asking” answers, rather than the usual platitudes.
Here's the transcript of Marshawn Lynch's post game interview. pic.twitter.com/aVMlNPIjv0— Bob Condotta (@bcondotta) December 22, 2014
Still, reporters have to play the game to stay in the game, even if it means acting like automatons stuck in a Westworld-ian loop of bruising access journalism, in which they must pepper their stories with the quotes that prove they were watching the game from the press box and not their couches. And while the profession has a hallowed tradition of journalists traveling with teams, hanging out in clubhouses and providing profound insights into the lives of pro athletes, “in an age of limited press access,” Leitch tells OZY, “sportswriters are going to hang on to whatever face time they have, even if it’s something as canned as a presser.”
In a world in which the Associated Press is already using AI robo-journalists to churn out sports coverage, the race is on for writers to raise their game and provide the insight, lively prose, and access that only a human — at least so far — can provide. In this reporter’s opinion, however, postgame interviews filled with mind-numbing questions and rampant clichés are only going to invite the army of robots and publicists to encroach further.
So what do I think our chances are as journalists in overcoming these challenges? Well, as a wise man once said, “We just want to give it our best shot and, good Lord willing, things will work out.”
Enjoy the following cliché-ridden clip from The Kicker, starring Weird Al Yankovic, and walk us through how you felt watching the most recent sports press conference in the comments below.