Yes It’s True: Interviewers should just ‘let ’em play’

Naomi Osaka

All this brouhaha about Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka declining to do interviews has brought me back to a conclusion I made a long time ago — the most overrated process in presenting the news or sports indeed is the sometimes rude and often cumbersome media need for getting quotes.

Rene Cappon, in his landmark textbook “The Word,” noted almost 40 years ago that athletes speaking to a microphone thrust at them during a stressful time rarely if ever impart wisdom or anything of value. So why should Naomi Osaka suffer consequences for not wanting to do something that makes her so uncomfortable?

I’ve seen plenty of athletes duck the microphones, such as Michael Jordan after a loss to the Pistons, Phillies pitcher Steve Carlton and slugger Barry Bonds after just about all ballgames, yet I don’t recall them being penalized.

One of my favorite interviews was Magic Johnson at the Olympics in 1992 after revealing he had HIV, telling reporters that they were in the presence of the greatest athletes in the world in their respective sports, yet they had to talk to him again.

I learned more than 40 years ago that I really didn’t need to get labored quotes from a coach who measured his words and spoke very carefully.

There have been exceptions. When Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach John McKay was asked how he felt about the execution of his team, he replied, “I’m all for it.” Then there was Philadelphia Eagles coach Joe Kuharich explaining why his team got beat 68-0: “A fumble here, a dropped pass there, it adds up.”

A tired Detroit Lions defensive tackle, when asked post-game in the locker room for an interview, pointed to his private parts and replied, “Interview this!”

The pesky press somehow believes it is essential to badger a quote from athletes or coaches after the heat of battle has subsided, even though it is extremely rare when such quotes have added to the understanding of what just happened.

It’s even worse when the microphone is thrust into the face of a coach before the game is over, like the Oregon women’s basketball coach who was asked how his team somehow let Central Michigan come back and make a game of it at the start of the fourth quarter.

The coach simply said, “Presley (Hudson) can shoot.”

I routinely quote public officials when they speak in public meetings, but it is rare for me to seek out an interview. I agree with former Indiana basketball coach Bobby Knight, who told reporters, “You saw the game. Why are you asking me?”

I repeat, the most overrated process in reporting on news or sports event is getting quotes from someone who is reluctant to speak or just plain bewildered himself or herself about what just happened.

One of the worst examples involved Olympic heptathlon champion Jackie Joyner-Kersee when her husband approached her with flowers after she won the last event, the 800-meter run. Joyner-Kersee, who suffered from asthma, said loud enough for microphones to pick it up: “Not now. I can’t breathe.”

Shame on the tennis moguls who insist the players give interviews when they don’t want to or feel they cannot.

To paraphrase a poorly applied contention about high school sports in this state last February, “Let ‘em play!”

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