Have you ever watched a press conference for an NFL player or interview with a college football star and think to yourself “what in the world are they doing?” Well, believe it or not, reporters often find themselves wondering the same thing. Based off my experience interviewing both college and professional football players, here are the top five questions I really want to ask during an interview:
1. Uhh, ya know, can you like, ya know, make a complete sentence?
Is there anything worse than hearing an athlete use the same verbal filler over and over again? Personally, I think not. When I interview an athlete and they say “and uhhh…like…uhhh” every other word, it’s very hard to follow what they’re actually trying to say, and for viewers, it’s a huge distraction. People made jokes about New York Jets’ quarterback Tim Tebow and his rather enthusiastic press conference when he used the word “excited” 45 times, but that is nothing compared to Miami Dolphins defensive end and former Nittany Lion Jared Odrick, who said “ya know” 47 times throughout a three minute interview during training camp in August of 2010 (In Odrick’s defense, he has gotten a lot better at avoiding this habit since then). I’d like to think that if you can make a complete pass, you can make a complete sentence, but “ya know” continues to be the overachieving cornerback that intercepts every quote, ya know.
2. Is that your final answer?
What’s worse: hearing a ‘yes or no’ answer or hearing the same question answered five different ways? Sometimes, I think a one-word answer will suffice. Former Penn State coach Joe Paterno was an expert at rambling on during interviews. Ask him one question and he’d answer it several times before concluding with “ehh I don’t know.” And sometimes, athletes really don’t know the answer, or they do but they decide to completely disregard the question asked and give an irrelevant explanation. Either way, get to the point, or at least have one.
3. What are you looking at?
In my opinion, this is the first thing any athlete should learn: during an interview look and respond to the person asking you the question. Gazing off into the distance or bobbing around as if you’re following a butterfly is bad enough, but please whatever you do, do not look at the camera. There is nothing more awkward than watching an interview on TV and having your favorite athlete, or even your least favorite athlete, stare you right in the eyes as you’re laying on your couch in your pajamas… even writing that makes me feel uncomfortable.
4. Can you repeat that in English this time, please?
This is a pet peeve of mine I still have yet to comprehend. College athletes are receiving a college education (many for free) and those in the NFL have already completed college, so why during an interview do some athletes sound like the only class they ever attended was How to Mumble 101 and majored in tying their shoes? An interview is an opportunity to showcase yourself off the field and when the audience or reporter can’t understand anything you are saying or you speak as if you have the mental capacity equivalent to that of a bologna sandwich, there’s a good chance your fans aren’t going to be paying much attention to the context of whatever indecipherable message you’re trying to get across. I think it was difficult for even the most diehard Alabama fan to get excited over Courtney Upshaw’s ‘moving’ Defensive MVP acceptance speech at the 2012 BCS National Championship. (I would normally insert a direct quote here, but the only thing I could understand from that speech was “roll tide.”)
5. Did you come up with that answer all by yourself?
The main reason we enjoy player interviews is because they provide us with the opportunity to learn something new and to help us grasp an athlete’s individual personality. That purpose is brutally defeated when an athlete answers every question with an overused cliché. “We just got to take it one game at a time.” Oh, really? I thought you could skip games and predict the future. Granted, using these regurgitated phrases are an easy way out of a tough question, and more often than not, a go to PR move encouraged by media relations, but please, spare us. Some athletes get it right and come up with original creative comparisons, like Penn State’s tight end Garry Gilliam who made headlines during spring practice by comparing their previous practices to Willy Wonka’s factory. Basically, if you’re an athlete, you know you’re going to be interviewed so in-between studying your playbook, show your fans and beat writers the common courtesy of coming up with some original answers we didn’t just quote from your teammates. (And if by chance they do use your line first, don’t respond with “We came to play, and they wanted it more.”)