Say Cheez! Postgame press conferences serve up only processed pap for the insatiable sports media

Oct. 22, 2001
Oct. 22, 2001

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Oct. 22, 2001

Say Cheez! Postgame press conferences serve up only processed pap for the insatiable sports media

You know how a seed becomes a sapling, how a sapling becomes a
Douglas fir and how a Douglas fir becomes the newsprint that
becomes your morning newspaper. But how, pray tell, does that
newspaper come to contain "quotes," those pithy verbatim
comments from interesting public figures that are set off by
inverted commas? The answer is a fascinating rite called the
"press conference," and this is how it works:

This is an article from the Oct. 22, 2001 issue Original Layout

Sixteen minutes after a thrilling playoff game, a reporter
seated four feet from Braves manager Bobby Cox makes a
heartachingly nuanced five-part query--not so much a question as
a Zen koan--about the crouching-tiger power of Tom Glavine's
fastball, the paper-swallow grace of his changeup and the way
his curveball, late in the count, sometimes resembles a cobra
uncoiling. The question is then "paraphrased" into a microphone
by National League vice president Katy Feeney, who says to Cox,
"Talk about Tommy's stuff."

Only then, when all life has been leeched from the moment, may
Cox--seated, on a riser, six feet higher than his
subjects--reply, "I thought Tommy had good stuff."

The quote is then typed and distributed to the press as an
urgent bulletin on official letterhead of the National League of
Professional Base Ball Clubs. These "quote sheets" are coveted
by baseball writers who, while writing their game stories, need
them next to their laptops, where they make useful beer coasters
and nacho-cheez doilies. As a bonus, six paragraphs into his
story the scribe may pause to lick cake frosting off the quote
sheet, revealing Cox's insightful bons mots, which are
immediately inserted into the seventh graf: "Tommy had good

All of which is to say that quotes are produced by precisely the
same process--automated, uniform, blandifying--that Kraft Foods
employs to stamp out bars of Velveeta. People like Velveeta, so
why do things differently? During last year's baseball playoffs
a reporter tried to inject some spontaneity and humor into yet
another stultifying press conference by clearing his throat,
furrowing his brow and asking gravely of the Yankees' manager,
"Joe, who let the dogs out?"

To which Joe Torre, in audio-animatronic press-conference mode,
replied earnestly, Well, lots of guys. I think Tino's hitting
the ball well, Knobby's getting on base, Jeter has had a heckuva
series and....As Torre droned on, the reporter rose quietly from
his seat, walked slump-shouldered to the back of the room and
hung himself by his press credential.

For members of the press--who are seated around an elevated
authority figure, cannot speak until called upon and wear their
names on cards hung from their necks--the press conference
resembles in every way a third-grade classroom, only with dumber
questions. Two years ago at the U.S. Open, tennis player Todd
Martin was asked, "Todd, could you tell us where you are
physically right now?"

"Physically I'm right here," replied Martin. "Would you like to
know where I am metaphysically?"

Worse, the number of questions entertained at a press conference
is inversely proportional to the number of reporters in
attendance. Thus, when Tiger Woods won the 2000 U.S. Open at
Pebble Beach, he deigned to take 21 inquiries from the 500
inquisitors in the press tent. Naturally, golf writers die a
little death whenever one of those precious questions is of a
too-specific nature, of little use to anyone but the asker. So,
after his historic victory at Pebble, Tiger fielded a question
from an Asian reporter, who asked, "When are you coming to
Korea?" Sigh.

Another question, from a Japanese woman, was even less
serviceable: "Would you sign my hat?"

Athletes love such questions, because they beat the alternative,
which demands real answers. Anyone who has watched Pentagon (or
baseball-playoff) press briefings knows that they are often
little more than bear baitings--the poking of a caged animal
with a stick until that animal reacts. Last week Astros manager
Larry Dierker was asked why he brought in Mike Jackson (who had
coughed up a lead) to pitch the eighth inning of a National
League Division Series game rather than Octavio Dotel. Said
Dierker, "If I put in Dotel, you'd say, 'Why not Mike Jackson?'"
The press blinked back at him, as if to say, "And your point

That, however, is the beauty of the press conference, and
America, and even democracy itself. Any knucklehead can, and
usually will, get a press pass, entitling him or her to ask
impertinent questions of anyone from Michael Jordan to the
president of the United States. In this way we slake the
public's "right to know," so that you--tomorrow morning, over a
bowl of Froot Loops--may start your day with one unyielding
certainty: that last night, in Atlanta, Tommy had good stuff.