"It was a big game. Two big points."
"As long as we work hard we can compete every night."
"That's a good team over there and they don't give up."
Most fans have heard the old clichés so often they could write the postgame script themselves. Why do multimillion-dollar athletes so rarely say anything worth hearing?
- Ask a Stupid Question...
I'll never forget my first big-league press conference, following a Major League Baseball playoff game some years ago. There I was, surrounded by the cream of the North American sports media, anxious to see how the real pros do their job.
The winning manager entered, sat before the microphone and waited. Then came a few seconds of awkward silence, broken only by the sound of reporters munching on fries and chicken fingers from the free buffet. Finally, someone in the front row posed the first question: "So, ah, how about a general comment of being up 2-1 in the series?"
The next time you watch a press conference or locker room scrum on television, listen to the queries from the media throng. Useless answers are often the product of useless questions.
It's All True
They don't tell the whole story, but the postgame platitudes and buzzwords are reliable because they usually contain fundamental truths: It is important for a team to play the system and take advantage of its chances. Hard work can make the difference between winning and losing. Every win is a big win, because the alternative could cost you your job. Sometimes sport is not that complicated.
Good Quotes Don't Win Games
Professional athletes have spent their entire lives working with their bodies and using their minds in distinctly non-verbal ways. Talking is not what they've been trained in, it doesn't help them get ahead and it isn't how they communicate on the job. Is it any wonder they aren't very good at it?
The Great Play Speaks for Itself
Did you ever hear Wayne Gretzky try to explain a brilliant move or perfect play?
"Well, I saw the guy commit to the outside, so I was able to just get around him, and Coff usually gets open at that spot, and I was fortunate to get the pass through..."
His descriptions were usually hopelessly prosaic, but what more could we expect? The evidence on the ice, or on video tape, often tells you everything you need to know.
What Would You Say?
It's late. You are tired and sore and hungry. Maybe your wife just found out about that girl in Pittsburgh. You are surrounded by hot, bright lights and cornered by strangers demanding an explanation for everything that happened in the last three hours.
If that's how your working day ended, how articulate would you be?
What Goes Around...
Does a wise goalie publicly blame his defensemen for a goal? Should a fourth-line centre tell a reporter what he really thinks of the coach? Will a scoring star question the courage of an ill-tempered opponent he has to face six more times this season, even if he really believes the guy is gutless?
Occasionally someone let's the truth slip out. But most of the time athletes cannot afford to be brutally honest. "Say little when you lose, say less when you win," is a common saying around locker rooms.
Do We Really Want to Know?
Lots of folks want to know a hockey player's true thoughts, but only if they are the thoughts of a humble, small-town kid who unconditionally loves the game and is darned grateful to be making a living.
When a guy like Brett Hull or Mario Lemieux says what is really on his mind, plenty of fans and media types will brand him a whiner, a loose cannon, a spoiled millionaire jock and a poor team player. Why bother?