On the Death of the Athlete Interview

On the Death of the Athlete Interview

One of the more enticing aspects of taking an entirely independent blog and affiliating it with a much larger media entity was the opportunities that would then present in terms of talking with the players we followed so closely from afar. As it turned out, said access is a whole lot better in theory than in actuality. That's not to say access is bad or of no value at all, it's just tends not to be what you might think or hope it to be before you actually have it.

ESPN's Tim Keown does a really nice job explaining why that is in a piece about the death of the interview in sports. His sentiments ring true, especially the "more information and less knowledge" aspect of today's media landscape.

Keown writes:

There is an abundance of information flying through the air, like
bits of paper in a whirlwind, but with a striking lack of context or
depth. The demands have no connective tissue, just 20 or 30 people with
separate agendas trying to get you to talk to theirs before the next guy
interrupts. There is no real interaction, no chance for them to follow
up or request clarification or elucidation or retraction.

You
attempt to answer the questions thoughtfully and honestly, but when the
media relations manager holds up his hand and says, "Thanks, guys --
that's it," you walk off the field toward your locker, trying to replay
your answers in your mind. Mostly it's a complete hash, and you reach a
resigned conclusion: You have no idea how anything you just said might
be interpreted outside that clustered cocoon.

It's interesting to see this take place in real time. As a greener member of the media, I tend to do a lot of observing on how things go when the crowd gathers around a player at Citizens Bank Park. You can tell by the question asked what each questioner's agenda is for that day. The radio guys want one good sound nugget. The TV guys want something they can throw on air in a nice 30-second clip. The beat writers like Jim Salisbury try their best to keep a real interview setting alive, attempting to dig a little deeper. The best questions always come from the beat writers or the longtime baseball writers like Jayson Stark or Tyler Kepner.

I often hear the seasoned vets of the press corps waxing poetic about the days of Pete Rose talking for hours after a game or how they'd run into the Phils' skipper at the hotel bar on the road and share some stories over a whiskey. It makes me wish moments like that were still feasible today.

But they didn't have Twitter!

This all leads to the question of "why is the interview dead?" Which isn't exactly easy to answer. Athletes, with the help of their PR handlers, know that they no longer have to be as open as they were in the past. Part of that is the media and fans alike place way too much importance onto the unscripted words of athletes. "OMG! Did you hear Jimmy Rollins said something about the crowd being quiet! How dare he?!?" We're certainly guilty. That turns players off from being open and honest. Things *are* blown way out of proportion and taken way out of context. And they can show up, not just in newspapers as back in the day, but on the Internet, on blogs, on sports radio, on podcasts, on ESPN, on MLB Network, on YouTube... and it never stops. Today's media consumer, for better or worse, lives for the headline-making moments.

There are plenty of those "gotcha" type stories these days where often times the question or conversation leading up to the player quote isn't even given.

What's also interesting is that while athletes are saying less and less of substance in the controlled environment of a locker room, they're flocking to twitter and Facebook to do everything from tossing up nonsense, talking music and not-so-subtly meeting girls, to criticizing each other and their own teams.

Embedded sports media used to be the gatekeepers of access via the access teams and leagues had given them. That's more limited than ever, but the fans have new access to players, so much so that the media are doing more and more stories on what athletes say on Twitter as compared to what they said in the locker room.

That's not to say traditional access is fruitless. There are still brief moments when the TV cameras and radio personalities walk away from Roy Halladay after a game and Doc will be standing in the middle of the clubhouse with only three or four writers remaining and will drop some serious knowledge on you about how and why he talks to an umpire between innings.

Cliff Lee has had a few of these moments as well, but for him, there's less mystique, less magic to it all. He's very matter of fact about everything. It's just "work hard and make pitches."

And then there's Charlie's pre game powwow in the dugout. But Charlie is old school. Perhaps that's what makes him so friggin' awesome. He'll open up about his days drinking with Mickey Mantle or dinner with George Steinbrenner in the 70s. He'll even tell you about his days as a kid winning state marble championships.

Still waiting for one of those types of stories from Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, or Jimmy Rollins though.

To someone who never knew the interview during its living years, its proposed death seems to ring true. But you can still get those priceless stories, knowledge, and moments out of players.

You just have to work a bit harder.

>>Death of the interview [ESPN]

Wired to win, Carson Wentz growing frustrated with Eagles' losing

Wired to win, Carson Wentz growing frustrated with Eagles' losing

He’s already lost more games as an NFL quarterback than as a college quarterback, and Carson Wentz says he’ll never get used to all the losing.
 
Wentz, who went 20-3 as a college starter, is 5-7 a dozen games into his rookie year.
 
The Eagles have lost five of their last six games and are 2-7 in their last nine.
 
From Seattle through Cincinnati, Wentz lost as many games in a 15-day span as he lost in his entire career as a starter at North Dakota State.
 
“It’s frustrating,” Wentz said Wednesday. “No one likes losing, especially in this business as a quarterback. 
 
“I’m wired to be a winner. I hate losing. But at the same time it doesn’t affect us going forward. I know it doesn’t affect me and I can probably say the same thing for the guys in that locker room. 
 
“We’re going to come in and prepare and be the same win or lose, because I think that’s what it takes to be great and you can’t waver. You can’t change how you approach things. You can’t change how you go about your business, win, lose or draw. 
 
“But at the same time, yeah, without a doubt. We don’t like losing around here.”
 
The Eagles have the third-worst record in the NFL since Week 4, ahead of only the hapless Browns and 49ers. 

They haven’t been eliminated from playoff contention yet, but it sure seems like only a matter of time.
 
Since building a 3-0 record, the Eagles’ only wins have come on Oct. 23 over the Viking and Nov. 13 over the Falcons, both at the Linc.
 
No NFL quarterback has lost more games than Wentz since Week 4. Wentz and Blake Bortles are both 2-7 during that stretch and Sam Bradford is 3-6.
 
North Dakota State went 71-5 with five national championships during Wentz’s five years in Bismarck, North Dakota. As a starter, he was 15-1 as a junior, including the postseason, then went 5-2 during an injury-marred senior year, although for a second straight year he led the Bison to the FCS national title.
 
So he’s not used to losing. Not at all. Not like this.
 
“You get in the locker room and it’s kind of a down feeling,” he said. “A lot of you guys are in the locker room after the game. They’re tough. You don’t like losing, no one does. Especially on the road having to get on the plane or the bus or whatever and come back home. 
 
“But you get over it. You turn on the tape and you learn from it. But right after you watch that tape, it’s on to the next. That’s kind of the nature of this league and that’s how you have to approach it.”

Fortunately, the Eagles have an expert on just this subject in the NovaCare Complex. 
 
Doug Pederson pointed out Wednesday he was a part of some really bad teams, and he said that gives him an ability to relate to Wentz on how to endure all the losing.
 
“In Cleveland we were 3-and-13 (in 2000), and then Philadelphia, my first year, being 5-and-11,” said Pederson, who was also an assistant coach on a 4-12 Eagles team in 2012. 
 
“Just kind of leaning back on those experiences and how we fought through. How we fought through adversity. How people try to divide the team or say negative things about players or whatever. We just kind of kept that thing nice and tight. 
 
“So those are things that I can lean back, when you talk about the experience factor. I lean back on those experiences to relay to Carson how we went about our business during those following weeks to come and kept that team together. 
 
“We had great leadership on the team, like we do now. With him, it's just a matter of keeping him grounded, keeping him level headed. He's a leader of this football team, and he doesn't have to do it all himself. That's the beauty of it. There are 10 other guys on offense, and 11 on defense, and special teams that have a big part in this whole process.”
 
Wentz has been going non-stop for almost a year now. From the FCS title game to combine prep to draft prep to OTAs and minicamps to training camp and now heading into Week 14 of the regular season.
 
But he said he doesn’t feel any signs of burn-out or fatigue. Although his numbers have dipped over the past couple months, he said he feels fresh and upbeat going into the final quarter of the season, which begins with the Redskins at the Linc on Sunday.
 
“I feel good,” he said. “I think it comes down to: Do you love it enough? I think if you love the game and you’re around it, you enjoy the grind. You attack it and it’s part of the process. 
 
“For me, there’s no more school to go to during the day. It’s just football all day every day and I love that. It’s been a lot of fun and by no means is it wearing on me in a negative way.”
 
What about his numbers? The stats are not pretty. 
 
Games 1 through 4: 67 percent completion, 7 TDs, 1 INT, 103.5 passer rating, 3-1 record.
 
Games 5 through 8: 61 percent completion, 2 TDs, 4 INTs, 72.4 passer rating, 1-3 record.
 
Games 9 through 12: 61 percent completion, 3 TDs, 6 INTs, 68.3 passer rating, 1-3 record.
 
Wentz shrugs it all off. 
 
“We’re all a work in progress. every quarterback in this league I think would say that,” Wentz said.
 
“You’re never a finished product, myself included. So you’re always analyzing different things you can do, from pocket movement to footwork. You’re always analyzing those things. So we talk about those things but we don’t harp on it. 
 
“Myself and really just everybody, we’ve just got to be better disciplined to things. Whether that’s alignment or pre-snap things, from recognition, from reads, you name it. We just all have to be disciplined. Really just execute better. It starts with me. Control our mistakes and that goes for everybody, myself first and foremost.
 
“We now what we’re capable of, I think everyone in the building does. We just have to get over the hump a little bit here.”

Zach Ertz, Rodney McLeod respond to criticism, defend effort after loss to Bengals

Zach Ertz, Rodney McLeod respond to criticism, defend effort after loss to Bengals

During a game after which Eagles head coach Doug Pederson eventually admitted “not everybody” played hard, two individual plays have been scrutinized more than any others this week. 
 
More than anything, two plays from the first quarter have stood out the most from the 32-14 loss to the Bengals in Cincinnati on Sunday. 
 
First, there was Zach Ertz’s non-block on Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict, then there was Jeremy Hill’s short touchdown run where it looks like Rodney McLeod simply let him score.

“I understand all the criticism and stuff,” Ertz said by his locker on Wednesday. “I’m not going to get into the details of every thought I had on that play. I’m focused on giving this city everything I have on each and every play. I promise going forward, I will do that. I think I have done that in the past. 

"I understand how it looks on the film, but I’m not going to get into the minute details of what I saw on the play and what I didn’t see on the play and how it impacted the play and vice versa. I’m focused on getting better. I know I’m far from a finished product as a tight end. I’m looking forward to this week against the Redskins.”
 
On the play, Carson Wentz scrambled for a gain of 10 yards and with Burfict sprinting toward the play, Ertz side-stepped to let him through. Head coach Doug Pederson and Wentz have both said a block from Ertz wouldn’t have been a factor on the play because Wentz was going out of bounds. 
 
But it certainly didn’t look good and fans aren’t happy about the perceived lack of effort, which Ertz said he understands. 
 
So does Ertz think he did anything wrong on the play? 
 
“I think I could have maybe got in his way, impeded his progress a little more to ensure that he didn’t get near Carson by any means,” he said. “But like I said, there were a thousand things going through my mind on that play and there’s a million reasons why I do stuff on each and every play and I’m focused on getting better.”
 
While offensive coordinator Frank Reich suggested on Tuesday that he was OK with the non-block from Ertz because it will keep his best tight end healthy for the last quarter of the season, Ertz said the coaching staff hasn’t told him to pick his spots to be physical and claimed his past injuries aren’t affecting the way he’s been playing. 
 
And aside from that one play on Sunday, Ertz thinks he showed his toughness and effort throughout the afternoon. 
 
“If you look at that game, I did give my all,” he said. “That one play has come under a lot of scrutiny, obviously, but if you watch that game for all four quarter, I mean, I’m cramping up, I’m still going out there and battling each and ever play. All I care is what my teammates and my coaches think about me. That’s all I’m focused on.”
 
This isn’t the first time Ertz’s effort and toughness have been questioned this season. The lack of yards after the catch and after contact has become a major talking point among fans this season. 
 
But for Rodney McLeod, having his effort questioned is an entirely new experience. McLeod wasn’t a second-round pick like Ertz; McLeod entered the league as an undrafted rookie in 2012. He worked his way to becoming a starter and eventually earning a free agent deal with the Eagles this offseason. 
 
Hard work and effort are what got him here. 
 
“It definitely hurts,” McLeod said about the criticism. “I know what type of player I am. I’m going to take pride in that. I feel like effort, hard work are the things that got me where I am today. That’s what my game is built on. So when somebody questions or has doubt in that, it does hurt. But nothing I can do. Just continue to put good stuff on tape, which I feel like I have done and continue to ride for my teammates and others.”
 
McLeod’s explanation for what happened on the first-quarter touchdown run echoed what his defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said on Tuesday. Basically, he thought the play was going somewhere else and by the time he was able to react, he was flat-footed. 
 
He then said he didn’t hit Hill because he thought the running back had already crossed the plane of the goal line and he didn’t want to get flagged. 
 
When fans watch the play, they might see a player who didn’t give it his all on that play. Not McLeod. 
 
“I really don’t see it,” he said. “If you look at any play before then, any game, any practice film, I’m probably one of the guys that’s giving it his all out there for this team and for my teammates. Like I said, I’m a prideful guy. I take pride in effort, hard work, all those things, I think, describe who I am as a player. Looking at that play, I thought it would hit somewhere else. It kind of came through leaky, guy was low, felt like by the time I got over there, it could possibly be a late hit. It’s a tough situation for me to be in.”