Locker Room Interviews Gone Bad
Take it from someone who spent 28 years as a TV sportscaster seeking truth, originality and excitement, you are not likely to find it in a sports locker room interview. If you have designs on being the next Bob Costas or Jim McKay, time to man (or woman) up on the realities. You will probably be too awestruck or afraid to ask the question that really needs to be asked. Or you will weasel out of it with the hackneyed, kiss up of all kiss ups.How did it feel?
First of all, since it is not a person, there will be no feelings. Back to English 101 for a refresher course. Next, if ever an athlete had a ready answer for a question, it is definitely that one. You know, man, it felt like great. Again, here we have it personified with the non-essential, verb turned adjective, like, all in one sentence. Yes, that is one answer all America will be salivating to hear.
It is really easy to spot neophyte reporters in the locker room. They will be the ones in a sequestered mob scene in front of the star player's locker, waiting to hear the Gospel according to Fred, even if Fred sat out the game with an ingrown toe nail. Generally, it is because they have not done enough homework to know scat about the rest of the players on the team – including strengths, tendencies and ability to utter sentences that are articulate and make sense. Many times, I have found that the lesser known player can be a jewel waiting to be uncovered with untapped stories to tell and experiences to reveal.
If you want to hit a homerun (cliche) in the locker room (an unlikely expectation, even if a parallel universe existed), you have to make a checklist of what to do and what not to do. It will be much like a Christmas list, only you may get rewarded if your questions are naughty instead of nice.
Let us begin with the one question that is an immediate give away that the interviewer has never had any public speaking training. That is the one that seeks a detailed response from a Yes or No question. You know the question, Uh, Fred, did you know there were 10 seconds left on the clock, when you threw that pass? Answer: Yes. If you do not get the opportunity for a follow-up question (which is very likely in a post game locker room), your whole investment in covering the game boils down to a one word answer. And, if you do get the opportunity, what is your follow-up, You sure it wasn't nine seconds?
Be bold and remember two words – Why and What. If you took any journalism classes, these words may trigger memories of the inverted triangle. Remember? Yes, the five Ws of writing a story or news release – who, what, where, when and why. During a locker room interview, only two of those Ws – why and what – will consistently elicit answers that require a cerebral moment to take place for the jock you are interviewing. No longer will a yes or no answer be the result. Cleverly constructed why and what questions can uncover unexpected jewels that can be both insightful and emotional – the kind of stuff on which great features are built and reputations made.
How will you know if you are doing well in asking the right questions? It will be obvious. The other reporters will start following you to a player's locker. They will be pushing their mics into the void as you ask the questions. Print reporters will be writing furiously to get the answers the athletes are giving you. Your name will start popping up in column's about the game with the reporter writing, Krozowski told XYZ's Steve Talbot (supply your own name) that he would rather risk his career, playing with a partially torn Achilles, than let his team miss out on a chance to be in the playoffs.
There are plenty of other things to learn about locker room reporting, and stories about the athletes I have interviewed coming up in future columns.