Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Best and Worst: Reporters fight back

In keeping with the theme of the last post, I came across a little survey I conducted once amongst my peers a while ago. This column was from May 23-29, 1996. Rereading it, it's fascinating how the same athletes get mentioned on both the best and worst lists:
The Sports Guy

by Guy MacPherson

One of the worst frequently asked questions put to sports reporters is in the form of, "What is he/she really like?" The media get closer to Joe Millionaire than John Q. Public does, but most of the encounters are in artificial circumstances. Even if a rapport is developed between scribe and jock, the athlete is always on guard, fully aware that the reporter has a job to do and will pounce on any slip of the tongue.

So to ask a member of the fourth estate an opinion on the personal nature of a particular player is folly.

That's exactly why I did it.

Giving interviews is part of an athlete's job. Analyzing this aspect of the job doesn't tell us exactly what a pro athlete is like, but it does give us a clue as to how various personalities react in quasi-social situations. I polled a number of local journalists on who they felt was the best and worst they have had to deal with.

The questions:
  1. In your experience, which athlete(s) – local, national or international – give(s) the best interview(s)? Why?
  2. Which athlete(s), for whatever reason, give(s) the worst interview(s)? Why?
Neil Campbell, Globe & Mail: Best - Greg Anthony. He listens to questions and thinks about his answers. He is adept with analogies and uses them often to illustrate his points.
Worst - Charles Barkley, Joe Carter. Barkley is too busy trying to be a clown to give intelligent answers, and Carter might as well offer a no-comment every time. He offers stock, cliché answers. He is the master of the verbal shrug.

Paul Chapman, The Province: Best - Deion Sanders. He speaks his mind on any and every topic. He may be arrogant, but he gives his opinion on everything; he's not afraid of anyone. He also provides witty and insightful comments on questions. He'll tell you – technically – what he has to do against a certain offense, then he'll crack you up with a colourful quip.
Worst - Kirk McLean. Mr. One-day-at-a-time-have-to-work-hard-and-play-good
-defense-and-give-110-percent. The Cliché in the Crease. He doesn't give detailed answers; just arrogantly offers generalizations.

Darron Kloster, Victoria Times-Colonist: Best - 1. Kirk McLean/Dave Babych. Both honest. Actually try to shed light and insight on questions rather than bathe it in cliché. Patient. Can answer same question ten times without losing their cool. 2. Trevor Linden. Actually returns phone calls.
Worst - 1. Steve Yzerman. Cranky. Boy, does he want a trade! 2. Pavel Bure. Can't open up. 3. Ben Johnson. Hates all media – even me! 4. Silken Laumann. Great when you don't have to go through her agent.

Jeff Rud, Victoria Times-Colonist: Best - Kirk McLean. Always has time, no matter if he plays well or stinks. Gives thoughtful answers. Nice guy. Wayne Gretzky, Gordie Howe are right up there, too. Byron Scott and Greg Anthony of the Grizzlies get honourable mentions.

Worst - Kevin Garnett. Basically because he refused to acknowledge my existence as a human being. Former Blue Jay Ernie Whitt for exactly the same reason.

Dave Sennick, Victoria Times-Colonist: Best - Wayne Gretzky. Has time for you. Will explain and elaborate. Does not always give stock answers. Seems aware of your situation, too, i.e. deadlines, etc. Will talk good times and in the bad.
Worst - Silken Laumann. Goes to great lengths to make herself unavailable. Fairweather interview (if controversy hits, she is gone). She doesn't want to do interviews.

Trevor Thompson, Orca Bay Sports: Best - Charles Barkley, Blue Edwards, Dave Benefield. Each gives honest, thoughtful, intelligent answers to questions asked of them. Each also has a sense of humour and each will talk honestly with patience, win or lose. They smile, they're personable and people want to hear from them.
Worst - Doug Gilmour, Dave Stieb, Gary Payton. Each has an ego so big it's a wonder they can squeeze their heads inside the arenas they perform in. When you treat others as if they aren't good enough to stand in your presence, and worse yet believe it to be true, you won't make very many "favourite people" lists. Each is intelligent and well-spoken. Too bad they didn't say something worth hearing every now and then. Does anyone even miss Dave Stieb? I thought not.

I'll throw in my two cents worth. For the best interview, I'd have to say Blue Edwards. The man will talk, good game or bad, about anything, whether it's sports-related or not. He actually listens and thinks before he speaks.

Other good ones include Jayson Williams for his rapier-like wit, Will Perdue
for his honesty, David Robinson for his intelligence and patience, Shawn Kemp for staying the same since he was a rookie, and Bruce Enns and Don Horwood for their enthusiasm.

For the worst, where do I begin? Patrick Ewing for his detachment, Reggie Miller for his unwillingness, Scottie Pippen for his attitude, Chris Mullin for his uncommunicativeness, John Starks and Gary Payton for the chips on their shoulders, John Stockton for his ton of stock answers (I think that's how he got his name), and Brian Winters for keeping all his good quotes in his head.

"As an aside," adds one of the respondents, "I am compelled to say that a majority of sports journalists, both print and spoken, have poor interviewing techniques. So often you hear a statement instead of a question. And when questions are asked, they often are close-ended. In other words, questions that could be answered with yes or no. Those encourage cliché responses."

Sure, sometimes we base too much on how an athlete responds to our often jejune questions. But it's all we can go by. It is these brief encounters that enable us to answer with certainty to anyone who asks that Scottie Pippen is a jerk.


  1. Wow. Who knew that Silken Laumann was such a problem. She seems to have cultivated a very positive media image despite rubbing the media the wrong way.

  2. Yeah, but the media impressions of Barkley seem pretty spot on. Funny/stupid and black can carry you a long way in this world. And I meant that as a critique of the consumer as much as the producer, so to speak. We're all culpable is what I'm saying.