Tuesday, January 27, 2015

This Is You Asking a Question and This Is Me Answering It

One night during a dinner break at the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure earlier this month, the topic turned to discussing poker players who weren’t interested in doing interviews.

We weren’t talking about Daniel Colman and all of the hubbub from last summer at the WSOP (although his example did come up). No, in fact there are a few other players who aren’t so enamored with doing interviews, especially during breaks in play when they might be making better use of their time. It’s by far the exception -- in truth, the great majority are more than amenable -- but it comes up now and again.

Among the questions raised by the topic was one considering whether or not players in a poker tournament -- say a big WSOP or EPT event or some other widely-covered tournament -- were at all obligated to give interviews. The question elicted a variety of opinions. It also inspired me to introduce the analogous case of Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch.

You might have heard about his appearance at the NFL’s “Media Day” today, and if so you got an idea why I might have brought him up in this context. The NFL does in fact require players to submit to interviews, and most readily comply. But Lynch is not a fan of giving them, and so has gained notoriety for the ways he’s kinda-sorta went along with them by answering questions with non-answers.

He went through one post-game interview only answering “Yeah” over and over, regardless of the questions. There was another in which he responded each time by saying “Thank you for asking.” Today he did something similar, repeating 29 different times (ESPN counted) with some close variation of the non-responsive response “I’m just here so I won’t get fined.”

I’m mostly ambivalent about Lynch’s unwillingness to do interviews. I know some get pretty heated about it, either taking issue or wanting to defend him. I’m more interested in watching him play than talk, and in fact his anarchic approach to interviews provides something more interesting to consider than what the majority of interviews with athletes produce.

Lynch isn’t the first athlete to repeat a non sequitur over and again as answers to interview questions. Former NBA great Rasheed Wallace did the same at least once, I recall, going through a whole postgame presser saying “Both teams played hard” over and again. Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook did something similar earlier this month answering “Good win for us” (and near variations) repeatedly.

In those cases the non-answer at least related to the game, albeit non-specifically. Lynch’s answers are not even that relevant, although like the others they still perhaps draw attention to the fact that most sports interviews -- both questions and answers -- are often entirely comprised of redundancies. Even the athletes and coaches who do respond to the questions often do so in ways that communicate very little, although there are exceptions there, too, with some interviewees sharing genuine insight or at least engaging personalities than enhance our enjoyment watching them perform on the field or court.

I remember watching a football game a few months ago after which a sideline reporter grabbed a player from the winning team to ask again the same “how did it feel?” question we’ve heard so many times, with the answer also echoing the same expressions we’ve heard time and again. I was inspired to tweet a paraphrase of the reporter’s question (see left).

Getting back to the poker players and the occasional example of one not wanting to do an interview, I’ve never minded that too much either. That said, it’s always a little disappointing to hear a poker player talk about not doing interviews not because they are inconvenient, but because of some sort of principle related to the idea that they gain nothing of value by doing them.

When that happens -- and again, I’m talking about something that’s actually surprisingly rare -- I’m always a little dispirited mainly because it brings to the foreground how poker for some isn’t necessarily “just a game” or an opportunity for amusement, but a business in which anything that can potentially affect the bottom line negatively is to be avoided. (But I know that’s an easy position for me to take.)

Interviewing is hard -- much harder than it looks. And being interviewed isn’t easy, either.

What else do I think about it all? Thank you for asking.

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