Friday, December 19, 2014

A Few Small Suggestions for the Jock Interview

Josh Dobbs being interviewed: "The ball's not that heavy."
I left sports writing a long time after 17 years of banging it out it because, frankly, I was bored. After leaving, it was five years before I could go to a sports event and enjoy it. I had sat stone-faced and glass-eyed for a long time, watching the same people do the same things, interviewing marginally intelligent coaches and man-child athletes who gave the same answers to my stupid questions.

The only real respite in the last few years of that gig was placing an emphasis on girls and women playing sports. They were smarter, fresher, more enthusiastic and much less predictable than their male counterparts. Title IX had not yet been passed, so their games remained on the margins and their numbers were small. They weren't playing for publicity because there was little to be had. They played because they loved it and that was refreshing to see.

I still follow some sports for reasons that are not clear to me and I still read sports stories that glaze my eyes and respond to those stories like I was watching "Mystery Science Theater."

I just finished watching a video interview with the University of Tennessee's quarterback, Josh Dobbs, an intelligent young man who majors in aerospace engineering and has close to a 4.0 average. Still, he has the sports interview disease. He is a running quarterback, so when he was asked if the large number of carries of the ball he had at the end of the season wore him out, he gave the same tired answer half the QBs in the country would have given.

I would much prefer he had said, "No, I didn't get tired. The ball isn't heavy. Now, if you'd been carrying the ball--with that gut you're wearing--my guess is it would have been a chore, but I'm 22 years old and in peak physical condition, which is why you are interviewing me instead of the other way around."

He was asked about his bowl opponent, Iowa, a team with a mediocre record from a mediocre conference and after deeming the Hawkeyes "a great team," said it "plays downhill." A good reporter would have followed that response with a probing question: "How does the playing downhill thing work? The field has always looked pretty level to me. Is somebody bending a rule by bending the field here?"

UT has injuries among its receivers and when asked about those, Dobbs reported that several players had "stepped up" and I couldn't quite figure what they'd stepped up to. My guess is that they're doing what they're supposed to do: catching passes. "Stepped up" was used by the sports writers asking questions seven times during the interview. "You guys" was used so often by the writers that I lost count at 14. "Guys" by itself seemed to be in nearly every sentence.

So, I'm still sitting here watching, hoping to find some gem somewhere and, as always, I don't. But I keep watching. That's a disease. A 12-step program--Sports Interview Anonymous--may be next.

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