By: Ben Leadholm
(Editor’s note: this was written for my sports journalism class during the summer of 2016)
Super Bowl XLIX media day. Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch steps up to the podium.
Lynch: “When do my time start? Oh it started? Well then let me start. Hey, I’m just here so I don’t get fined so y’all can sit here and ask me all the questions you want to. I’m going to answer with the same answers. So y’all can shoot if y’all please.”
Lynch: “I’m here so I won’t get fined.”
Lynch: “I’m here so I won’t get fined.”
Lynch: I’m here so I won’t get fined.”
Rinse and repeat.
“I’m just here, so I won’t get fined.” This infamous quote by former Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch shows just what is wrong with sports press conferences today. So many times today athletes, like Lynch, are failing to hold up their end of their contractual bargain. Leagues, like the National Football League and the National Basketball Association have requirements for athletes and coaches requiring them to speak with the media and Major League Baseball requires teams to open its clubhouses before and after each game, but players are not forced to speak to reporters. Look, I get it, they don’t want to talk to the media. Well, sorry, we all have things we don’t want to do, but we still do it. Athletes are paid a lot of money and by not following the agreement they signed, they are coming off as childish and unprofessional.
Lynch, “speaking” at Super Bowl media day uttered this phrase more than 20 times, but was able to avoid being fined by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. However, Lynch, who was making $12 million a year at the time, was able to capitalize off of his stubbornness by trademarking his phrase and selling it on T-shirts for $34 a pop. In fact, Lynch has four trademarked phrases from quotes he made during interviews.
Slightly better than Lynch’s “I’m just here, so I won’t get fined,” are athletes that leave press conferences early because they don’t like the questions being asked, they don’t feel like being there, etc. Example: Cam Newton’s Super Bowl postgame press conference. Granted, this was after Newton arguably lost the biggest game of his career, but the NFL MVP cannot just get up and leave the press conference. Five-time MVP Peyton Manning lost the Super Bowl twice, but he never got up and left in a tantrum. In fact, Newton, Lynch and other NFL players could learn a thing or two from Manning.
After parting ways with the Colts, Manning called many local reporters to thank them for their coverage over the years. “In the few times I interacted with Peyton, he was a true professional. He looked you in the eye and answered the question,” Scott Agness, editor of vigilantsports.com said. “Manning took the time to know the names of every media member that was around on a regular basis. Nothing he had to do but something Peyton Manning just does. He’s way above the standard.”
Another reporter, Phillip B. Wilson, formerly of the Indianapolis Star believes that Manning’s dealings with the media is the gold standard.
“No athlete has ever been more clever [sic] at dealing with the media. Again, he never did anything halfway,” Wilson said. “Even after he went to Denver, when we did a conference call with him a year later, he answered questions on the phone and included many of our names, including mine.”
These first two situations of poor press conference etiquette are real no-no’s. My next complaint might be more of a personal pet peeve, but I think it can be a real issue in sports media: athlete’s children.
Riley Curry became America’s sweetheart last year during the NBA playoffs when her father, Steph Curry and his Golden State Warriors captured the NBA championship. Riley Curry first gained her fame during the Western Conference finals game one postgame press conference.
“Once she started laughing, after the first question when she heard my voice in the microphone, I knew it was going to be downhill,” Steph Curry said in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle. “I thought she was going to fall off the stage, once she started going underneath the table. I’m trying to answer questions and feel around, make sure she’s within arm’s reach.”
My problem with this is that children can be distracting: they can’t sit still, they need attention and like most athletes, they just don’t want to be there. Children distract their athlete parents and the media that are trying to do their jobs. In some instances, it seems almost like athletes are using their children to take the attention off of themselves or to distract the media.
After winning the 2016 NBA championship, LeBron James brought his three children to the postgame press conference. James held his youngest daughter in his arms. You could tell James was distracted, having to pause in the middle of an answer to a question to tell her that he was almost done. I understand that players want to spend time with their families, especially after winning a championship, but do you honestly think that in five or ten years James’ kids are going to say, “remember how much fun we had at that postgame press conference after we won the championship?” Of course not. Leave the kids out of the press conference. You don’t see doctors bringing their kids to appointments or firefighters bringing their kids to a fire? It would be unprofessional. So why should athletes?
I’m not saying press conferences have to be boring or not fun. In fact, I think athletes with great personalities or that are open when answering questions, like Draymond Green, David Ortiz and Manning are entertaining and are good for their respective sports. Players don’t have to like the media, but they need to find a common ground and perform their contractual duties. At the end of the day, it’s just two different professions doing their job to the best of their abilities. Often times, players are just getting as much benefit, in regards to publicity [think endorsements and shoe sales], as the media does.
Carlos Beltran, of the Texas Rangers, understands the relationship between athletes and the media.
“You always have to be professional,” Beltran said in an interview with Newsday. “I have to be professional with you, but at the same time, you to be professional with me. It’s got to be a two-way street.”
If we can have more athletes treat the media like Carlos Beltran and Peyton Manning have, then we can truly make press conferences great again!