At one time sports reporters asked real questions—questions like what kind of pitch did he throw you when you hit that home run? or were you surprised when the coach told you to line up at tight end? or where did you learn to hit a topspin backhand like that?
These were questions for which there were actual answers, that required the athlete to construct, if not a sentence, at least a thought. That must have been the heyday of sports journalism—now seemingly gone.
Today’s sports reporters ask questions like how good did it feel to hit that home run? or how surprised did you feel when the coach told you to line up at tight end? or how great does it feel when you hit a topspin backhand like that?
These three questions have three answers, but they’re all supposed to be the same: Very, very, and very. They require no thought and provide no insight. They render the entire interview unnecessary and superfluous, in very much the same way I don’t need both unnecessary and superfluous in this sentence.
If I could momentarily interrupt this mild tirade about what is admittedly a trivial topic…the title of my blog, Begging No Questions, is a gentle jab at all those people who see no difference between begging a question and raising one. I’m currently raising one about sports interviews, but the interviewers themselves are coming close to begging the question—a term which means assuming something true that ought to be proven first. For instance, how do you know the baseball player felt good about hitting the home run—maybe, like Paul O’Neill in the Seinfeld episode, he was supposed to hit two home runs, just the way Kramer promised the little boy in the hospital. How good did it feel? That’s begging the question, and that’s what sports interviews have become.
(For those with an aversion to correct usage but a predilection for crime shows, we can call it leading the witness. I’m okay with that also.)
The whole idea of an interview is to glean information, not simply to fill time or satisfy some network requirement. Yet today’s format is designed so that even the most unconcerned interviewee can provide a response. In fact, the Japanese players on the Yankees (for instance) do not need a translator for those post-game on-field interviews. They simply need to remember 非常に、非常に、and 非常に、 (See above for translation.)
If throughout history this had been the standard of Q and A, I’m sure we would have heard questions like these:
—How good did it feel to see that Eiffel Tower after thirty-three and half hours in the air?
—How much did it hurt to know, your majesty, that some ragtag American rebels your soldiers?
—How surprised were you, General Custer, to learn that you had underestimated the strength of those combined tribes? General Custer? General?
When I was still teaching English and polled my students at the end of Macbeth to elicit final questions, they would often ask why Lady Macbeth took her own life but her husband didn’t, or why Malcolm gets to be king at the end, or why a man with free will can be controlled by three weird old women with a cauldron. Good questions all…with actual answers. Today, however, my students would probably say, “Mr. Radda, how satisfying is it to have just finished teaching a major tragedy for the thirtieth time?”