Locker Room Interviews
Sometimes I leave a locker room pretty happy with what was said about the team or the upcoming opponent. Sometimes the comments are so cliché ridden it’s amusing. That’s why some athletes are known as media “go-to guys” and others aren’t seen or quoted in the media so often. Just like in any group of people, some are smarter than others, some speak more eloquently than others, some welcome the spotlight, while others shun it.
You can always tell when a team has been “coached” by the staff on what to say to the media. Anytime you ask four or five players a similar question and they come up with the same phrase like, “they’ll try to control the line of scrimmage” you know the coaching staff has used that phrase over and over in their meetings. Some coaches put a muzzle on their players. Jim Fassel of the Giants hasn’t let his team speak in anything but generalities since the middle of November.
Some players close themselves out from the media completely. I’ve always thought that was irresponsible. Aaron Beasley decided early in his career he didn’t like being criticized in print. He stopped talking to the media for a while, but since has relented and is a very good and thoughtful interview.
Part of being a professional athlete is dealing with the public, including the media. If you think a writer has been unfair, close him out. Steve Spurrier did that with Larry Guest of the Orlando Sentinel for years. And he was probably right. Guest wrote what Spurrier thought were unfair and untrue things about the program, so he stopped answering his questions, just ignoring him like he was invisible. One time he even said, “you know I don’t answer your questions,” looked up and said, “anybody else?” I don’t have a problem with that. If you ask a fair and honest question, you usually get the same kind of answer.
Some players and coaches don’t mind lying to the media and others are using it for their own personal gain. Some even turn it into a game. John Jurkovic used to “hold court” near his locker, spewing all kinds of sayings and platitudes, turning the interview into a show. That’s okay. John was friendly and honest and was thinking ahead a little bit to a possible career after football.
Some players have an interview schedule. Did you know Mark Brunell only talks to the media on Wednesday? Clyde Simmons had the same rule. That’s fine too. Everybody knows what the rule is and abides by it. Whatever reasons the player has for it don’t have to be justified by anybody. You’re talking Wednesday? Good, I’ll be there.
Jimmy Smith admitted he ran from the media after the AFC Championship game last year. He was gone by the time the locker room was open. “I just couldn’t face it,” said the Pro Bowl wide receiver. He wasn’t alone. The post-game locker room was nearly empty by the time it was opened to the media. I think that’s fairly lame. Reporters who cover the team regularly know the players as people too and are generally wise about how to ask a question after a loss. The national media is a little more savage, but a cold look in the eye to an unknown reporter after a stupid question usually sets the ground rules.
When Kevin Carter was at Florida, he was a great “go to guy” in the Gator locker room. (the Gators locker room is now closed and they bring the players out to be interviewed. I also think this is lame. There’s no uniqueness to sticking a microphone in front of a guy’s face as part of a mob scene) Auburn beat Florida in Gainesville, and I approached Carter in the post-game locker room for a comment. He kept his back to me and mumbled into his locker, “I’m not talkin’.” “What,” I exclaimed. “I’m not talkin’,” he repeated. “Oh, I guess you only talk when you win,” I snidely replied. (remember, this was during my young and stupid phase) Carter turned and stared a hole through me, but I didn’t budge. Actually I thought he might hit me. He relented and answered a couple of questions. I went about the rest of the locker room, gathering information, and eventually, alone, made my way back to Carter’s locker. I told him how much I appreciated his talking with us, and how as he moved on to a professional career, he didn’t want to get a reputation as a guy who only talked when things were good. Nobody respects that. He nodded a couple of times, and I left. Maybe it sunk in, maybe not.
My Hall of Fame of interviewees is probably just like anybody else’s. Joe Namath, Michael Jordan, Muhammad Ali, Richard Petty and Arnold Palmer. All knew the media had a job to do, some were more entertaining than others, but all understood how to portray or promote themselves through the media. Jordan was the greatest post-game locker room interview ever. You had to wait until he was dressed (impeccably) then he would answer any and all questions without exception. When the questions stopped, he would ask, “everybody got what they need?” look around the room, then slip out the back door. Namath was always honest, Petty and Palmer patient and polite without fail.
Gary Player adopted the habit of knowing a reporter’s name, and using it during the interview. That usually makes for good press.
The day of the outburst, the bulletin board material is probably gone with a few exceptions. Coaches warn players about the “evils” of the media. Players see their comments on the cable highlight shows. With the exception of Andre Rison, nobody’s been really outrageous in the Jaguars locker room.
No Richard Todd stuffing a reporter in a locker.
No Ryan Leaf having a temper tantrum.
Tom Coughlin has yelled at me a couple of times, outside of the press conference. He didn’t like a couple of my questions.
That’s okay. He’s doing his job.
I’m doing mine.