You have questions, we have responses that we'd like to consider sufficient answers. Continuing our weekly "Ask Complex" series, the tips and questions are getting sharper, more relevant, and more debatable. Today, we're discussing the recent trend of athletes completely stonewalling reporters who are just looking for a quote or two for their stories. Here's the question:
Q: Should pro athletes like Marshawn Lynch be required to fully cooperate with reporters? — Marcus, Charlotte
If you interview people for a living, which is something that I've done in some capacity for most of the last decade, you're going to have some unpleasant interactions from time to time. One of the worst interviews that I ever did took place back in May 2005 when I was asked to speak with Styles P of The LOX for a story about the Ruff Ryders. I don't know if Styles was having a bad day when I interviewed him or if he just didn't like the kinds of questions that I was asking him—if I had to guess, it was probably a combination of both—but getting him to provide anything other than one-word answers to my questions was like pulling teeth. I only spoke with him for about seven minutes, but those seven minutes were so uncomfortable and tense that, when I was asked to interview him for another story a few years ago, I almost passed on the opportunity. I ended up speaking with him again and, fortunately, it went much better than our first interview did. But I still cringe when I think about the first time I spoke with Styles. It was one of the worst interviewing experiences I've ever had.
With that in mind (sorry for the trip down memory lane!), I feel for the beat reporters who have been asked to try and pry information out of Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch this season. Lynch has made it very clear in recent years that he doesn't like doing interviews. So he's done everything in his power to keep the interviews that the NFL requires him to do before and after games as short as possible. But recently, he's also started to go out of his way to make life difficult for reporters who are just trying to do their jobs.
In November—about a week after the NFL fined him $100,000 for skipping out on a media session after a game against the Chiefs—Lynch conducted an entire interview with reporters using nothing but the word "Yeah." Then, a week later, he did the same thing again but switched it up by using the word "No" over and over and over again, regardless of what he was asked. And after a game against the Cardinals last month, he took things a step further and repeated the phrase, "Thanks for asking," every time a reporter asked him a question. The Internet loved it and Vines of Lynch's interview went viral. And Lynch also seemed to start a trend amongst other professional athletes like Broncos running back C.J. Anderson and Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook, who used the same tactic Lynch did to get reporters off their backs during postgame interviews.
I won't sit here and try to pretend that I didn't laugh the first time Lynch made a mockery of a postgame interview. I can't stand most postgame interviews featuring athletes. They're chock full of clichés that do very little to explain how athletes are actually feeling, and, in most cases, athletes sound like they're talking simply because their respective sports leagues are forcing them to speak. But at the same time, there's a reason why the NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL require players to talk to reporters. It's because the sound bytes that they provide—tired and trite as they may be—are played repeatedly on everything from SportsCenter to the local news. And they keep people interested in both the players that are talking and the organizations and leagues that they represent, which is ultimately good for business. Without pregame and postgame interviews, professional sports leagues wouldn't get a tenth of the coverage that they get from media outlets now, so they're necessary to the survival of those leagues and therefore have to get done.
Look, I get it: Marshawn Lynch—and a lot of other pro athletes out there—don't like talking to reporters. They don't like the idea of sharing their feelings on everything from contracts to coaching decisions. And that's fine. They don't have to like it, and they also don't have to answer every single question that reporters ask them. They're allowed to occasionally respond, "Next question," when they're asked something that they don't want to talk about, and they're even allowed to son a reporter who goes out of his or her way to ask a particularly inflammatory question (“THAT’S A CLOWN QUESTION, BRO!”). Pro athletes are people, not robots, so I totally get why they might not want to talk about certain things.
But for pro athletes, doing interviews with reporters is a part of their job. Just like training in the offseason, showing up on time for practice, and, of course, taking part in games, speaking with the media is something that they're expected to do. So rather than try to fight it, athletes like Lynch would be better off accepting it and finding ways to get through interviews without repeating words like "Yeah" and "No" or skipping out on them altogether. It'd make life easier on the players (wouldn’t Lynch rather be known for his Beast Mode runs than his interviews?). It'd make life easier on reporters. And ultimately, it'd keep the focus on the games and the performances of the players—which is where the focus should be—and not on the postgame interviews.
Athletes, is that really too much to ask? You can ignore that question if you want to, but the answer is “No.”
—Chris Yuscavage (@CYuscavage)
How would you feel if somebody asked you the exact same thing every single day? How would you feel if the "questions" you were asked weren't really even questions, they were demands or statements? How would you feel if people repeatedly told you to talk about things that both you and those people know you're not supposed to talk about? How would you feel if you basically had to have extremely dumb conversations week in and week out?
You'd probably be a little annoyed, right? I know I sure as hell would be.
At its base, what this comes down to is not a matter of whether or not Marshawn Lynch and his colleagues are doing their jobs (which I do realize is part of playing in a professional sport). Rather, it's a matter of us, of my colleagues in the sports writing world, doing our jobs terribly.
The game stories, also known as "gamers," that the large majority of these interviews are for have become extremely outdated and useless. The recaps are extremely stale, the quotes are always the same, there is no creativity in finding interesting angles, and you can find almost all of this information in Vines and tweets while the game is happening or in a quick video bit following.
Most of the writers who are in locker rooms after games have a pretty simple outline for their stories. They write about 80 percent of the gamer before stepping foot into that "interview" and have very specific answers that they want to receive from the players. So they ask extremely broad questions, extremely specific leading questions, or closed-ended questions. "Tell me about such and such." "Take me through this and that." "How important was it to keep the ball on the ground?" "Tough to rebound from Thursday." "Thoughts on defense?"
Those last three are taken straight from the transcript of Marshawn's "yeah, no" interview. How stupid are those? How lazy are those?
Is it rude for these players to completely stonewall reporters and barely even listen to what they are saying or asking? Yes, by human nature, that's a rude thing to do. But the fact of the matter is this behavior and these responses from these players actually gives these writers something FAR more interesting and hilarious than any cliché gamer they were probably going to write in its place. Marshawn has actually given these people something they've been looking for the entire time: a story! People are paying attention to this, because it's something out of the ordinary and it's actually brought up real discussion and a real point of debate.
Still, I technically have yet to respond to the question in the headline of this post. Should these players be required to cooperate with reporters? I say no. There are tens of players, coaches, and assistants on the team who can give these reporters the exact same boring answers to the exact same boring questions. Instead of complaining about somebody not cooperating, find your way around it. Find something more interesting. Find a different angle.
Readers, thank you for asking.
—Tony Markovich (@T_Marko)