From the Editor’s Desk: Sports reporting
By: Jonathan Munshaw, Editor-in-Chief
When was the last time someone organically asked you, “Talk to me about [blank]?”
Would you be eating with your friends at lunch and ask, “Hey, talk to me about your drive to campus today?”
In The Towerlight office, I would never go up to a section editor and say, “Talk to me about this lead.”
Or, how often do you try to put an expected answer in your question to someone?
“Hey, [friend’s name], what made you so successful on that chemistry test yesterday? Was it the eight hours of studying the night before?”
If you answered “never” or “no,” to any of those questions, I’m very proud of you.
The reason these things sound so silly is because they are just that: Silly questions that will never lead to organic or substantial answers.
Which is why it blows my mind that any media member would be legitimately mad at a professional athlete for giving clichéd answers, or not giving an answer at all, to their questions.
The most recent example and scapegoat has been Marshawn Lynch of the Seattle Seahawks, who just showed up to Super Bowl Media Day and simply answered every question he received with something to the extent of, “I’m just here so I won’t get fined.”
For those readers who aren’t big sports fans, Lynch has been fined by the National Football League in the past for refusing to talk to reporters, so he’s been showing up to press conferences or interviews at his locker and giving non-answers to every question until the reporters give up and leave him alone.
Lynch’s actions have led to childish columns by a number of sports writers who have taken umbrage to Lynch’s actions and are throwing him under the bus, accusing him of being “childish” or “unprofessional.”
But there is absolutely no way I can place any blame on Lynch.
Last Monday, I spent 11 straight hours in The Towerlight office, seven of which were spent designing the Towson’s Best pages.
After I finally left the office, I went home and took a shower.
After that shower, the last thing I would want in my life would be someone running up to me while I put clothes on in my closet and ask me asinine questions while I change such as, “Jon, talk to me about what made this year’s Towson’s Best so successful.” Or, “Jon, why did you spend 11 hours in the office today? Was it because there was a lot of work to do?” Or, even worse, they could double up on the cliché questions and ask something to the effect of, “Talk about the work ethic of your fellow editors today. You have to be proud of the way they handled the adverse weather conditions and the fact that it was the first day of classes.”
This is the same thing that happens to professional athletes. After they spend hours on a field (or rink or court) trying their absolute hardest to win a physical competition, they get about 15 minutes to try to turn that adrenaline off and then answer 20 questions about their day, quite literally while they’re changing outside their locker.
If sports writers want athletes to take these postgame interviews seriously, start asking grown-up questions.
With the way that sports news works today, it blows my mind that these kinds of questions/interviews are even necessary. Any quote that any athlete or coach is going to give you can likely be found either in the game tape or even in a standard box score.
If I had access to all of the game film for the men’s basketball team, I would probably never even write gamers, instead I’d spend my time breaking down film and writing analysis pieces rather than traditional game stories.
The reporters who go to Super Bowl Media Day and ask these “talk about” questions are likely taking their jobs about 50 percent less seriously than their peers at the same event.
Use the interview times to talk to players and coaches about actual storylines. Writing a feature story about Dez Bryant’s season and his quest for his first big contract of his career and how the Cowboys used him in the offense this season would lead to much better questions than just “Dez, what was going through your mind during that play that was ruled an incomplete pass against the Packers?”
Frankly, if anything was going through his mind, I’d be terrified. No human being has the mental capacity to actually make a decision in a half second when an oval, rubber ball is hurdling at them. It’s all instincts.
Who can blame athletes for getting burnt out from the media and wanting to give Lynch-like answers after trying to answer questions that don’t really have an answer?
My favorite example of the use of Super Bowl Media Day was Robert Mays from ESPN’s Grantland. Instead of standing around the podiums and just holding out his recorder for 30 minutes to Lynch or Russell Wilson, he walked around the grounds and asked actual, in-depth questions to the Seahawks’ offensive linemen about their blocking scheme for a larger feature about how Seattle can win the Super Bowl.
Some players and coaches are going to give you genuine answers, and some of them aren’t. It can be frustrating if a player doesn’t want to talk to you, especially if an editor is breathing down your neck and demanding you get a certain quote or a certain sound bite after the game, I get that.
But there’s no reason to blame the players for becoming frustrated after years of asking the same question(s) over and over again, and simply being asked to “talk about” something rather than actually answering an inquiry.