The Art Of Athlete Interviews

October 2, 2017

“To be quite honest, he’s kind of lazy,” Griffen said. “He’s lazy. He gets beat on the inside. I think the biggest thing is he just has to compete more. But yeah, he’s pretty lazy. I think the rest of the offensive line, they do pretty well, but to me he’s kind of lazy.”

This quote from Minnesota Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen made national headlines this week. It’s pretty rare to see someone call out a guy he’ll be directly competing against before a game. But it does provide some intrigue in a sports world that has become mostly sanitized soundbites.

Sure, professional athletes are more guarded than ever when conducting interviews. They get coached up on that, too. But some of them, like Griffen, will still throw a curveball once in a while.

Trouble is too many members of the sports media ask questions in the same way I talk to my 2-year-old son when I’m trying to lead him in a certain direction.

Me:Hey buddy, that broccoli looks really yummy. Do you like it?” Him: “Yes, I do like my broccoli. It’s yummy!”

I’ve been noticing this trend of media interjecting their own point of view or narrative into the line of questioning and it is really starting to drive me nuts.

I almost smashed my radio when a local morning show was interviewing another member of the Vikings defense on Monday. The line of questioning went something like this.

Q: “The offense, defense and special teams were clicking on all cylinders yesterday. How fun was that?” A: “Man, it is fun when we’re clicking on all cylinders…”

Q: “How great of a season is Everson Griffen having to date?” A: “He’s having a really a great season so far…”

Q: “The sacks seem to come in bunches when you get out to a lead and you can really pin your ears back and go after the quarterback.A: “Like you said, it’s fun to get out to a lead and just pin your ears back and go…”

Q: “Your next three games are all division games and two of them are at home. How important is this stretch?” A: “This is a really important stretch of games…”

Q: “You guys played really well in the first game, then went out and looked sloppy in the second game and then came back and played great yesterday. Is it fair to say the first and third games were more who you are as a team?”

This is the point where I tuned out, but I suspect I know what the answer was. And I’m pretty sure a robot would’ve responded the exact same way.

This is just one example, but I’ve been subjected to dozens of similarly boring interviews with athletes from all sports. I blame the interviewers, not the subjects.

If you want any chance of getting a player to say something interesting, you have to give them an opportunity to do so. Keep it simple. Keep your opinion out of it. And frame the questions in a way that might elicit a response that isn’t incredibly predictable.

Is that too much to ask?