Is UK media culture killing our sports personalities?
Above observing the game itself, many sports fans enjoy watching the post match interviews, the podium celebrations and the press conferences, to see and hear what lies beneath their favourite sports stars. But do we ever get to hear what they are truly feeling? Or are our media to blame for forcing them into a ‘one size fits all’ mould.
World number one tennis star Andy Murray, has admitted to being deliberately boring during news conferences, to avoid any criticism. Murray said: “I always try to give honest answers. But they are fairly boring so I don’t have to deal with the aftermath of any scandals.” While his ‘boring’ persona hasn’t prevented him from being crowned Sports Personality of the Year for three years, is this really what we want from our athletes?
But perhaps the Scot has a point? The criticism Louis Smith received from the British media after losing out to his team mate Max Whitlock, at the pommel horse event in Rio 2016, was relentless. “A bad sportsman”, “a jealous, jealous man”, “sour grapes” or, was Smith just purely devastated for missing out on the top spot? Surely it would be more realistic, more human, if we let these athletes wear their hearts on their sleeves more often.
We watch sport for entertainment, however, the majority of pro sportsmen and women are unable to build up any sort of credible rapport with the public, due to the near impossibility of having any kind of direct contact with them. This then makes the media our middle man, which emphasises the importance of them portraying the athletes in their true light.
Is an option for them to have such a huge personality, that the media can’t skew it in any way, other than what it truly is? Nick ‘Honey Badger’ Cummins, the Aussie Rugby Union player, is well known for giving raw, but none-the-less rather bizarre interviews. “Busting for a bit of meat” (‘meat’ being a try), “I’ll take any meat that’s on offer”, and when asked what his philosophy on attack was for a game, the Honey Badger replied: “Into ‘em, basically. Up the guts, and yeah, swing it wide and in the corner.”
Far from the traditional sportsman interview, there doesn’t seem to be any formal reasoning behind Cummins’ words, it’s as if he says the first thing that comes to his head. No media pleasing replies, no orderly responses, just his organic personality being displayed for what it is.
So are the British media to blame for the increasing number of one-dimensional sports stars in the UK? How often do you hear footballers pour out the same post match comments, game after game? The media training they receive appears untailored, impersonal and outdated.
There is no arguing that there are sponsors and owners to please, but can more interest be created through the distinctive characters of each sports star?
Looking to the US, it is no secret that there are huge expectations placed upon NFL players from a very young age. As soon as they show any ounce of talent, they are given a helmet, some pads and a ball, and told to run, fast. Their future has already been planned out for them, giving little chance to live a ‘normal’ childhood or to chase any dreams other than football. Yet they still manage to exert their personalities through their actions, both on and off of the field.
Is this as a result of the ballers being introduced to the media much earlier in their careers and receiving more thorough media training, or is the American media simply more supportive than ours?
The James Hunt era of Formula One was donned with sex, glamour and partying. The British playboy certainly made a name for himself in the media, for traits other than his incredible driving skills. This could be down to how little was expected of him – he didn’t need to be a role model, he was a racing driver.
However, over recent seasons, F1 has been deemed as boring, predictable and uneventful by some, full of characterless drivers. Enter Daniel Ricciardo. Who would have thought that the Aussie would want to drink his celebratory champagne from a sweaty race boot? Not only that, but would he keep this unconventional ceremony to himself? Certainly not! The likes of Gerard Butler, rival Nico Rosberg, Team Principle Christian Horner and team mate Max Verstappen were subjected to the ‘Shoey’ festivity.
Australian fans followed suit at the Malaysian Grand Prix, by drinking beer from their shoes. “I haven’t made many friends from this, actually!” Ricciardo joked in a press conference. “I love the taste, personally! I thought today it was quite fruity.”
It’s clear that a lot can be learnt from the many characters in sports around the world, but will the UK media ever adapt and embrace them for who they are? Or will sportsmen and women of the future, just simply bypass the media altogether and take to their own social media channels where they can let their true personalities shine? Better that than having to sit through another press conference, isn’t that right Serena Williams?