Sports & media: Athletes should be careful what they wish for. And race narrative in Celtics shuffle.

By Gary Abernathy

Athletes, when it comes to press, careful what you wish for

There’s been a lot written lately about tennis player Naomi Osaka’s reluctance to speak with the media, the responsibility of athletes to answer questions, and how the role of depression or mental illness plays into all of that.

As the Washington Post reports:

Osaka, at 23 the second-ranked women’s tennis player and the most highly paid female athlete in the world, withdrew from the French Open on Monday. Her step came after a week of volleys with the tournament’s organizers over her refusal to attend media events, citing the challenge they posed to her mental health. Osaka first said she would not participate in the tournament’s customary post-match news conferences. Then, after a $15,000 fine and a warning from organizers that she would be suspended, she took the extraordinary step of removing herself.

Osaka has said she suffers from bouts of depression. Everyone can only wish her the best. But athletes balking at talking to the media is nothing new. Part of the problem is that sports organizations have made the practice more formalized, and even part of player contracts. Once upon a time, reporters merely trudged into locker rooms after games or matches and approached players at their lockers, trying to get a few comments before their deadlines.

That still happens, but in modern times sports leagues, both professional and amateur, parade their top players into media rooms postgame in front of screens featuring league or team logos, and expect them to sit in front of microphones for five or 10 minutes fielding questions from assembled sports journalists that mostly start with the words, “Talk about…” because sports reporters don’t know how to ask questions anymore, followed by answers featuring player nicknames that require a special insider’s scorecard to follow.

Most of the time it goes like this:

Reporter #1: “LeBron, talk about the team’s overall performance tonight.”

LeBron: “I thought we showed some real progress. We’re not where we need to be yet, but we’re getting there. A.D. was better tonight. He’s healing. J.D. was good off the bench. L.M.N.O.P. got hot in the third, that helped us when everybody kinda went cold.”

Long pause. Finally, Reporter #2: “LeBron, talk about the ankle.”

LeBron: “Uh, it’s feeling better. It’s still not where it needs to be, but it’s getting there.”

And on and on and on and on.

As with all modern journalism, it’s really about the “gotcha” moment, the hope that a player or coach will blurt out something scandalous, rude, inappropriate or political that will dominate a news cycle for the next day or two.

San Antonio Spurs coach/GM Gregg Popovich is notoriously antagonistic toward to the media. But his famously curt answers or silent stares have become so standard that they now border on burlesque.

The postgame press conference and other daily “media availabilities” have become as much of a game as the sporting events themselves. If they died, no one would really miss them – and it might lead to fewer stories, less interest among fans, and a realization among players to be careful what you wish for.

Celtics shuffle personnel, race drives narrative. Of course.

Sticking with sports today, Boston Celtics general manager and former player Danny Ainge has announced that he’s retiring and will be replaced by current coach Brad Stevens. Some have decided there are racial issues at play, because these days, that’s always the narrative. And since Ainge and Stevens are both white, Boston needs to hire a black coach. Read that logic here, and have a great day.

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