Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Post Game

As I write this post on the eve of the Super Bowl, I have managed to avoid most of the media hype over the past couple of weeks. However, I did waste twenty minutes of my life watching Bruce Springsteen's press conference on-line, which was almost as banal as a typical Bill Belicheck press conference. I'll admit that it was mildly amusing seeing sportswriters shoehorn their typical questions into a musical context. Someone asked The Boss if he considered whether his performance would lift the world's spirits, a variation on the "sports are an escape from the world's problems" recitation. The splendidly named Les Grobstein asked a variation on the infamous "Where does this rank?" question by asking Bruce to compare playing at the Super Bowl with being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

At least the media participants were mostly deferential at the Springsteen event, in contrast to Super Bowl Media Day, which every year now follows the predictable script of mainstream journalists reporting on the antics of fringe journalists. (This year's headline: "Salsa Dancing at Media Day"). The media then is all too happy to report on the ridiculousness of the event (in observance of the general rule that the media is highly critical of "The Media").

You could say that Super Bowl Media Day actually helps to demystify and de-mythologize the pretensions of sports journalism, that it helps to make apparent the shallowness and vapidity that typifies most exchanges between interviewer and athlete. Yet we continue to suffer a holding pattern, with the same trite questions asked year after year. In the spirit of Joe Namath, I guarantee that several players on the winning team Super Bowl Sunday will be asked how it feels to be a champion, how it compares to other events in their life, and what was going through their mind when a key play occurred. And I guarantee that the answers will be anything but memorable. So what needs to happen to help us emerge from this vicious routine?

I can foresee a solution. What we need is a truly great world class athlete, a Michael Jordan type, to only use poetic non sequiturs when speaking publicly. The absurdity of Super Bowl Media Day must be fully realized and personified in the form of a jive-talking superstar. When asked how it feels to win a game, my chosen one would reply "The lady in the smokestack uttered a rejoinder. The crowd felt the radiance in waves. And the rooster would remain motionless no more."

Of course, this tactic would make the superstar athlete an even greater sensation, as the sheer novelty of his communication style would endear him to the media and in turn the nation. And this would result in lots of money for said athlete. Other athletes would see this and attempt to cash in themselves, and the existing vocabulary of media-athlete interchanges would be overwritten. Athletes would understand that their role as entertainers can extend beyond the playing field. Instead of plotting ways to avoid microphones and cameras, they would embrace them. Any given player would begin to understand that they could be a "brand," that their performance on the field is but one small part of an overall cultural performance they can carefully cultivate.

...And at that point, we would all long for the days when athletes would speak of playing "one game at a time." So perhaps when it comes to post-game interviews, we are actually living in the "Glory Days."


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