If you’re a betting man, someone who likes to play the odds, chances are you would wager against the proposition that a professional athlete will say something insightful, useful, enlightening, touching, or even partially intelligent in a post-game interview. Sure, million-to-one longshots occasionally pull through, but is it really worth spending a lifetime of ESPN viewing to glean a few seconds of pleasure amid interminable hours of oratory pain?
The staples of post-game interviews are cliches (“We just had to stick to our game plan and stay focused,”), neologisms (“I gave a hundred-and-ten per cent out there today”), and mixed metaphors (“When everyone on the team is on the same page we don’t have to dig ourselves out of a hole.”) Frequent interrogatories help pad the athlete’s monologue: “You know?” “Know what I’m sayin’?,” “All right?” And so do familiar-sounding nicknames, references to oneself in the third-person, and pledges of appreciation to Jesus, the Lord Almighty, and God, all or some of whom, the athlete hastens to note, made his performance/victory/endorsement deal possible. (No reporter has yet had the temerity to ask the losers if they feel God was responsible for their defeat, perhaps as punishment for some heretofore hidden transgression.) The gurgling proceeds according to script for 15-20 seconds, and then it’s off to the highlight package.
Most professional athletes — and their amateur brethren — ought to be treated like small children: seen but not heard. The problem is most of our media outlets consider it a major “get” to capture the inane ramblings of a semi-literate pituitary case on tape. It’s a perverse charade that embarrasses and debases all involved: You let us watch you perform feats of extraordinary physical beauty and we let you talk into a microphone as though you have something remotely interesting to say.
I suppose there’s nothing inherently harmful about letting not very smart people offer their viewpoints and perspectives on television. We allow our politicians to do it all the time.
The danger, though, is that our youngsters, those impressionable ones who are still under the misapprehension that staying in school is the best choice for a guy who can throw a ball better than 99.9% of the rest of us, might get the idea that the way to “handle” the media is how the current crop of super-fit dunderheads does it: cough up the expected pabulum and watch the public consume it as hungrily as a baby bird digests its mother’s vomit.
Just once we’d like to hear a reporter reply to Mr. Athlete’s fulsome stupidity with, “Whatever you said makes no sense. What are you talking about?” Or, better yet, the people who put together our sports programs could make the bold decision to excise all interviews from the broadcast, explaining with poignant honesty that there wasn’t anything worth airing, especially compared to video clips of the action. Auto racers, among other highly sponsored walking billboards, would lose their chance to thank the special corporations that keep their private jet running, but, on the other hand, you wouldn’t wear out the “mute” button as quickly.
Just as we have grown weary of Hollywood movie jesters pontificating before Congress on issues dear to their expressive if ill-informed heart, some day soon, we hope, our national obsession with people who run and jump better than average folk will be justly celebrated for their athletic prowess and justly denied the freedom of speech our constitution formerly guaranteed every citizen. If we never again hear an esteemed member of the NBA say, “I just had to play my game and stay focused,” we’ll be 110% certain that all praise goes to the Lord, without whom the shining moment wouldn’t be possible.