Jeff Roberson/AP
Jeff Roberson/AP

The Art of Saying Nothing

There’s a reason it’s impossible to find nuggets of actual information in a Super Bowl press conference. If athletes are experts at the bland, clichéd response, it’s because our jobs depend on it

By Coby Fleener

NEW YORK CITY — As an NFL player I’d rather be on the other side of the microphone, but this week I’m working as a Super Bowl correspondent for Peter King and the The MMQB. I studied journalism and media at Stanford, and one day I might be a sports reporter; for now, though, I’m a football player pretending to know something about sportswriting.

One thing I do know from being on both sides of the microphone is that football players (and professional athletes in general) are notorious for their clichéd answers. During my career I’ve been interviewed countless times, and I often wonder what the reporter could possibly get out of what I’m saying. I’m about as bland and clichéd as possible, and once the cameras are finally off some reporters actually give me a hard time about it.

I will continue to be bland, though, as will other athletes—because to a certain degree our jobs depend on it. Here’s why:

1. You don’t want to upset management or ownership.

Example: In last year’s Super Bowl, Colin Kaepernick was starting only his 10th game for the 49ers, after taking over when Alex Smith went down with an injury. Reporters asked his teammates about the situation, and most of them made dry comments about following the coaches’ decisions. This may not provide for exciting media coverage, but as a player it does help you keep your job. Why would you risk angering management or coaches by questioning them? Defending your friend one way or another may be noble, but it’s also like telling your coach you don’t have confidence in his decision—in front of the rest of the team and the whole world. Would you do something that might make your boss mad or make you stick out in a negative way?

The author, behind the mike on draft day 2012. (John Minchillo/AP)
The author, behind the mike on draft day 2012. (John Minchillo/AP)

2. You don’t want to be bulletin board material.

Example: Your team is undefeated at 11-0, and your next opponent hasn’t won a single game. Rather than say to the media, “Yeah, we should beat this team handily even if we played our backups the whole game,” you say something like, “The _______s are a tough team. They’ve had some early setbacks, but we anticipate we’ll get their best game.” There are reasons for this. Primarily, you don’t want to give the opponent any additional motivation to beat your team—or to put a target on yourself. There are some extra-large humans playing on Sundays. They already want to hit you really hard. Would you want to make them mad on top of it? Then if the opposing team wins, the media (notice the irony)will write that your stupid comment was the difference between winning and losing.

3. You don’t want to anger potential future employers.

Example: Richard Sherman has made it pretty clear that he does not want to shake Jim Harbaugh’s hand, which is fine, but it is also one fewer team that will view Sherman as a potential employee as long as Harbaugh is at the helm. If you’re an NFL player, you essentially only have 32 companies that will hire you. Richard’s comments may have limited his chances only with one team, but imagine if you’ve ripped every team you’ve played against during your last contract. Aren’t you severely limiting your chances of future employment?

As I said, I’ve been on both sides now, so as a service to fans I’m going to try to parse some of the football-speak for you, using quotes from Super Bowl week. Disclaimer: I can’t read minds, and take absolutely no responsibility for what is written below.

Russell Wilson

What he said: “I expect to be fighting for a Super Bowl every year. That’s kind of our mindset. That’s our team. We have a championship mindset. Our goal is to go 1-0.”

Parsed: Are we a good team? You’re darn right we deserve to be here. Unlike every other team in the NFL, our goal is to win the Super Bowl at the end of the year. In case you guys thought our goal was different, we want to win this game.

Julius Thomas

What he said: “We have to execute. We know that we’re going up against a great defense, a defense that’s had great success all year against some of the best players in this league. We’re going to have to really focus on our technique and have attention to detail. If we go out there and we’re not on top of our game, then we’re going to struggle, so we have to make sure we do everything that we can to be productive.”

Parsed: If we screw up plays regularly we are going to lose the Super Bowl. Their defense is impressive, and they’ve done well against other players whose names I can’t think of specifically at the moment, but that doesn’t matter. If we screw up plays regularly we are going to lose the Super Bowl. We can’t screw up plays.

Marshawn Lynch needed help from teammate Michael Robinson to say nothing to the media on Wednesday. ( Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
Marshawn Lynch needed help from teammate Michael Robinson to say nothing to the media on Wednesday. ( Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

Golden Tate

What he said: (asked if it’s overrated that some Seahawks players have been to a Super Bowl before) “I think Pete [Carroll] has done a great job all year of preparing us. It doesn’t matter if we’re going against a 0-15 team or an undefeated team on Monday Night Football. He’s prepared us to play championship football week in and week out.”

Parsed: My head coach and I are on a first-name basis. We approach every game with the same attitude, because if I told you we didn’t it wouldn’t sound too good. Coach has done a good job each week to make sure we get to this point.

Doug Baldwin

What he said: (asked about the media spotlight on the Seahawks this week) “We can only control what we can control, and that’s us. We’re going to focus on the task at hand, which is playing in the Super Bowl and doing the best of our abilities. We’re not going to worry about what the media says about us, about how much media attention we get. That’s not our concern. Our concern is playing Seahawks football.”

Parsed: We can only control what we can control, because otherwise we would have superpowers. Wouldn’t that be awesome?! We are going to focus on the Super Bowl. We aren’t going to worry about what the media says about us, because we can’t control that. Didn’t I just say that we are going to control what we can control?

Demaryius Thomas

What he said: (on the Broncos offense’s mentality for the Super Bowl) “I think our mentality is to do what we’ve been doing all year, going out, having fun, ballin’ out and leaving everything on the field.”

Parsed: Whatever we are doing seems to be working pretty well, so I think we’ll stick with that.

What he said: (on the key to a Denver victory) “The main thing that we’ve got to do is the same thing we’ve been doing all season, going out and playing Broncos football. It’s like you said, they’ve got a great group of guys on that sideline, elite tackles, linebackers and safeties. In the back end, they probably have the best in the game, so we’ve just got to do what we’ve got to do.”

Parsed: Whatever we are doing seems to be working pretty well, so I think we’ll stick with that.

What he said: (on Super Bowl expectations) “You approach it like any other game. Another game with another opponent ahead of you, so go out there and do what you prepared for. The main thing is just going out and playing Broncos football and try and get a win. Just leave it all out on the field.”

Parsed: Whatever we are doing seems to be working pretty well, so I think we’ll stick with that.

Coby Fleener plays tight end for the Indianapolis Colts.

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2 comments
westcoastbias
westcoastbias

Hey, how come PK keeps picking Stanford guys to write columns for him!?  Oh yeah, the SEC guys can't write...

ken.burnside
ken.burnside

@westcoastbias Hey, that's not true.  Peter handed them iPads to write their stories on, and they came back with the stories written on them in crayon.

It's that they couldn't spell. 

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