Getting in the last word about words
(Reprinted from Nov. 11, 2012)
Where would we be without words?
Some of us would be out of work, but all of us would be inconvenienced and negatively affected in some manner. Everything from term papers to grocery lists to ransom notes would be impossible to compile, and orators would be rendered silent.
Imagine if, during this election season, we weren’t subjected to a single political ad. Yes, go ahead and take several moments to imagine …
Sorry, that was a dream from which I was in no hurry to awaken. Words are the cornerstone of our existence, and there is no shortage of them — except inside the sports world.
As any veteran reporter will tell you, trying to coax certain athletes or coaches into opening up and offering insightful comments can be a very frustrating experience. They’ll either supply one-word answers or quickly develop a crusty attitude and treat the questioner with the same disdain normally reserved for a freeloading relative.
University of Oklahoma football coach Bob Stoops recently provided a vivid example of the above-mentioned characteristics at halftime of the Sooners’ game against Notre Dame, a contest the Irish eventually won 30-13. Oklahoma trailed 10-6 when Stoops was corralled by one of the sideline lovelies employed by every television station that broadcasts football.
Using women in the role of sideline reporter makes perfect sense, since most men find it much more difficult to cavalierly blow them off. Whereas a coach could run by a male reporter and ignore him completely without fear of social castigation, the same thing done to a female makes that coach look like a creep.
Stoops, who had been shown disputing for several minutes a penalty that wiped out what would have been a game-tying touchdown, did stop for the female ESPN reporter prior to going to the locker room. But when she asked Stoops what he was saying to the officials — a completely legitimate query given the circumstances — he became visibly irritated and accused the reporter of asking a loaded question.
Once that was done, Stoops shifted into clipped-response mode, offering little in the way of depth. In short, it was a classic case of what isn’t pleasant about conducting sports interviews.
In one way, though, I actually have to give Stoops a little credit: His snippy answer to the reporter about his conversation with the officials at least contained a smidgen of passion and was rather unanticipated.
Expect the expected — that’s what sportswriters learn in a hurry. Contacts with whom a solid working relationship has been developed may expound on certain subjects and give interesting quotes, but those are typically done off the record.
And unless there is an innate desire on the part of the reporter to permanently sabotage that relationship, the words stay off the record.
Now that we live in such a politically correct climate, off-the-cuff answers, even those of an innocuous nature, are being uttered with less and less frequency. No one wants his words misinterpreted, so even the most cooperative interviewees tend to adopt an air of banality.
So, regardless of the question, we hear a lot of things about athletes making plays and giving 110 percent, coaches making adjustments and just letting their players play, and all of them getting more focused.
For this, our Founding Fathers fought to ensure freedom of speech?
If you think I’m exaggerating, pay greater attention to the next halftime or postgame interview you watch. Chances are, the clichés will flow freely.
And for the handful of sports-world figures who seem willing to swim upstream, there’s always the gnawing feeling that their atypical comments are contrived. Shooting from the hip and truly not caring who gets caught in the verbal crossfire is pretty much a lost art these days, unless your name is Ozzie Guillen.
And we all know what Ozzie’s no longer doing, don’t we?
Of course, his biggest liability during his lone summer in Miami wasn’t his own loose lips, but an underperforming ballclub. Had the Marlins become a playoff team, as preseason forecasters expected, Ozzie’s rantings would have likely been filed under the “amusing” category.
He assuredly made Miami management uncomfortable with some of his comments, but they made Ozzie feel plenty comfortable by giving him about $7 million to not coach their team next year and, thus, stay publicly silent.
Now, that’s an offer even the most intrepid sports reporter couldn’t refuse.
Words? Hey, who needs ’em?