In defence of the sports press conference
Photo by ROB PREZIOSO/TENNIS AUSTRALIA/AFP via Getty Images Article content It has been a rough week for the humble press conference.
First it became the victim, when tennis star Naomi Osaka announced on social media that she would not submit to the post match question and hermes black boots replica
answer sessions while at the French Open.
Then it became the whiny bully, when tournament officials in Paris, joined by representatives from the other tennis Grand Slams, responded to Osaka’s first missed press session with a wildly over the top statement that threatened not just escalating fines, but possible disqualification and the real kick in the pants suspension from future events if she kept up the poor form. It felt like discovering a weed on the front lawn and then calling in a drone strike.
Eventually the press conference became the straight up villain, after Osaka withdrew at Roland Garros rather than continue to be a distraction at the tournament. In the days since, the press conference has been universally reviled as pointless, and overly demanding, and not the reason why anyone watches sports anyway. Are they even necessary anymore? Athletes can tweet, after all. Who needs all you cranky go betweens?
But there are really two stories here. There is what happened with Osaka, the 23 year old four time Slam champion. Rather than find a way to cool things off once Osaka skipped press after her first round win, French Open organizers went straight to the threats, backed by their Slam colleagues. Given that Osaka cited mental health concerns in explaining her initial decision to avoid press conferences, tournament officials could have handled this with a softer touch. Instead, their statement pointedly noted her “lack of engagement” with them and implied that someone who refuses press duties can effectively gain a competitive advantage over other players who accept that media obligations are a necessary part of their schedule. Generally, if someone opens up about mental health struggles it is not helpful to suggest that it might be a cheating tactic.
So, yes, I get why the vast majority of the responses to this have been to defend Osaka and blast Roland Garros, with the exception of noted dink Piers Morgan, who is definitely not someone you want to have on your side unless you are both trying to outrun a bear.
But it has been weird to see so many, and in particular so many journalists, take this incident as proof that press conferences themselves are dumb and pointless, full stop. It’s true that the questions can sometimes be banal “how are you feeling?” or silly “is this a must win game?” and the potential for random weirdness increases as the size of the press contingent grows. I once covered an NBA Finals where a reporter from Turkey, bless his heart, would ask every day about Cedi Osman, his countryman on the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Article content More On This Topic US$15,000 fine: Naomi Osaka withdraws from French Open rather than do media interviews Navratilova sad for Osaka, says mental health gets short shrift But despite their flaws, press conferences are still the only efficient way to allow large numbers of media to interact with athletes and coaches. Beyond that, the answers that come from the podium fuel all kinds of coverage of the event and the sport. Those clips and comments go into print coverage, highlight shows, radio and Internet programming. They are also pushed out on social media, including sometimes by the social media teams of the athletes themselves. It may be true that athletes are not paid directly for the time they spend speaking to the media, but the money that they do make is tied to media coverage of their sport. Broadcast fees, which have risen sharply in recent decades, have boosted salaries and prize money, and it’s those same broadcasters who naturally want press coverage to boost ratings, and interview clips that can be used on their programming.
The amount that athletes are paid to perform on their chosen field of play, in other words, can’t be put in one box, with things like technically unpaid media duties over in a separate box. The two things are linked. Rights holders pay big money to broadcast live sports, leagues and tournaments pass a lot of that wealth back to the athletes and in return they help boost the profile of their sport by talking to the media. For the most part, this is non negotiable, which is why leagues have their own rules about this stuff and don’t leave it do individual teams to police it.