Mortimer Snerd, Sports Hero

Before free agency and big money ruined professional baseball, I was a devoted fan of the game, during which time I developed tolerance and even affection for outstanding athletes who could barely put two words together when interviewed. Reporters used to handle this situation with softball (no pun intended) questions such as “What’s it like to play in front of these fans?” and “Are you excited to be in the playoffs?”. You don’t have to say a lot to meet the interviewing standard in baseball. After all, this is a sport in which former Detroit Tiger Al Kaline was gainfully employed as a color commentator because he could dispense wisdom along the lines of “He swung at the ball and hit it and that’s what you have to do in this league”.

Sitting at an airport watching ESPN just now, I observed that some sports interviews have now (d)evolved to not even be interviews at all. Rather, the journalist essentially instructs the athlete what to say, not even bothering to end each utterance with a questioning tone. The below is only a slight parody of these exchanges:

Reporter: Talk about how this team has really come together.
Athlete: This team has come together so well, it’s great to see.
Reporter: Tell us about how good Coach Smith is for the rookies on this team.
Athlete: Coach Smith, you know, is just great with these young rookies on the team.

Because they are largely repeating the words which they have been cued to utter by the “question”, the athletes are adding no value to these interviews, and that’s economically wasteful given that they make thousands of dollars a minute. I propose instead Mortimer Snerd dolls for each tongue-tied, marble mouthed, or otherwise interview-challenged star athlete. The journalist would simply sit behind the doll (which would be wearing the appropriate uniform and equipment) and make it say whatever he or she wanted. Economically, it’s double plus good: more efficient interviews, valuable athlete time saved and great merchandising opportunities created.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College London. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over thirteen thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

12 thoughts on “Mortimer Snerd, Sports Hero”

  1. Before free agency and big money ruined professional baseball

    This is just a ridiculous, rest-of-the-post-disqualifying thing to say. So the players now are earning a larger share of the value they virtually solely create? Yeah, sounds terrible.

  2. I’d like to see you give an interview after 4+ hours physically exerting yourself under the hot sun, 30+ minutes of running up and down a court, or being slammed into astroturf 2-20+ times in an afternoon.

    Hint: Why don’t you blame the people actually at fault here (interviewers/networks) and not the athletes?

  3. Most athletes have a severe speech dysfunction that causes them, for no apparent reason, to repeatedly use the phrase, “…you know…”

  4. Gotta agree with Grouchy here, and especially with Remfin’s last point.

    The big irritant is the way sports interviewers have followed other “news” people and made themselves the center of whatever it is they’re supposedly “reporting.” Or their producers have; I don’t really know the structure that well.

    What I do know is that if you see a typical story from the field, the reporters get more camera time than everybody else put together. And during that camera time they’re doing really fascinating things like walking, playing at performing skilled acts (driving a race car, say), asking questions, reacting to people answering questions.

    Sports “interviewing,” like “news” in general, has gone through a transformation. The interview or story is really no more than a pretext for showcasing a “reporter.” This helps explain why they’ve been able to get back to hiring eye candy and not worrying about whether “reporters” actually know anything. Radio is a little different; I wouldn’t call Jim Rome ear candy but you’re spot on about his questioning style and I don’t know how he gets away with it–

  5. Nothing new here.

    Back in the early sixties, my father used to groan at hearing a very young Willie McCovey respond to leads like that by saying “Well, that’s right, Lon.”

    Lon Simmons was a Hall of Fame announcer, and the qualifications included getting responses out of tongue-tied rookies. Willie did eventually relax and become a better interview.

  6. @Remfin…

    Watch the interviews at the end of a MotoGP or World Superbike race. These guys go crazy hard for 45 minutes (managing a 350 lbs 200 HP machine at 200 mph), get off the bike, go to a podium celebration where they drink fairly heavily, then give intelligible interviews where they convey real information, often in their second or third language. It can be done…

  7. Mortimer Snerd references?!? As a forty three year old American male who can recall the last years of Edgar Bergen’s career, I now realize that I am clearly at the low, low end of the demographic for the RBC. The more you know…

  8. Hold the phone: none of you mentioned that great scene re: sports interviews from Bull Durham? What’s going on here?

  9. Your so-called parody interview is hardly just a sports phenomenon. It occurs multiple times every day somewhere in the USA when yet another clueless reporter “interviews” a pol or some other “important” person. About 80% of the time the person being interviewed rearranges the words of the interviewer’s question before putting either “yes” or “i don’t think that” in front. It’s very sad. The reporter asks really dumb questions and the interviewee supplies really dumb answers. I’m thinking it’s because both sets of people are…really dumb. Their thinking lacks subtlety and substance. They actually have nothing to say but their jobs force their idiotic discourse.

  10. @Remfin: If giving an interview after playing a game of baseball is too much of a strain on world class athletes, I call out in the name of human rights that double-headers be immediately banned.

  11. Athletes are paid thousands of dollars a minute for playing a sport. They’re paid nothing for interviews. Sports is not an hourly employment arrangement. They will not play fewer games or practice less because they give a one-minute interview.

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