If you are a sports fan, as I am, and also a sentient human being, as at least a few of my readers are, you are aware of the stunningly insipid nature of sports interviews. Athletes are forced to conduct them, even though — because they are athletes and not, say, professional philosophers or even English majors who graduate and then have to take jobs in the large-appliance repair industry — communication skills are seldom their best-honed talents. Also, they are terrified of saying The Wrong Thing, since their utterances tend to be amplified by the sports-media amplifying machine into statements of Churchillian gravity. As an understandable result, they mostly rely on safe cliches. In the last month alone, athletes were quoted more than 40 times about how they or their teams need to elevate their performances “to another level.” Translation: “Win more.”
It’s really not fair. It would be as though someone demanded, contractually, that you, personally, in return for your nice income as a real estate agent, go on national TV once a month and play the Chaconne from Bach’s Partita No. 2 in D Minor on a clarinet. Sure, you could bone up on it in advance, but it wouldn’t be pretty.
Watch an athlete giving an interview. It is apparent that there is nothing in the world they would less like to do, with the possible exception of submitting to the Pear of Anguish, a medieval torture device so awful, despite its hilarious name, that I am not permitted to describe it here. You may look it up, though I do not recommend it.
The athletes, at news conferences, look left and right, and answer monosyllabically, or with a painful cliche, obviously praying that the torture will end after the next question, which is inevitably stupid. That’s the second half of the problem. Sportswriters have to keep asking idiot questions, because, really, all postgame questions come down to, basically, “Did it feel good to win?” Or, alternatively, “Were you bummed out to lose?” Or, sometimes, weirdly, there is this strange configuration of question that isn’t actually a question at all and exists only in sports interviews, such as, “So, Wally looked like he had his best stuff working tonight.” (Answer: “Yop.”)
Sometimes, it gets really excruciating, when the athlete, or the team, has been doing poorly. At that point, the interviewee looks defenseless, like the pimply, husky nerd in thick glasses forced to play dodgeball in the school gym and take it, repeatedly, in the head. (“How did it feel to lose 15 to 2?” “Bad.”)
So here is my proposal. I offer it as a tribute to Naomi Osaka. Let’s continue the sports interviews — the media must be fed — but change the questions. No stupid, trite questions allowed. Give the athletes a break. Give them something to work with.
“So, great game tonight. If you were at a house party and clogged the toilet really badly, would you tell anyone or just leave the bathroom as though nothing had happened?”
“Which sports reporter has the worst breath?”
“Was ist Ihre Lieblingsfarbe?” Ha-ha! That’s German, but I’ll translate. What is your favorite color?
“You may punch me in the face now.”
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