Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The Athlete-Orator

Julius Peppers accepts the trophy as this years recipient of "Toastmaster of The Year"

Said Peppers: "All the rules changes they make, they're always aimed at helping the offense. But you can't [legislate] against speed. It's the great equalizer, and defenses are just getting faster now. The game always evolves. It's still early, but maybe this is the year the evolution has come on defenses, fueled by all of the speed we're seeing right now."

Reading the above quote from Carolina Panther defensive end Julius Peppers brought to light something that I have often wondered, but had no first hand reason to fully question: Do sports journalists fabricate and “airbrush” (so to speak) statements athletes make? I’ve read quotes in newspapers and on websites attributed to athletes that I have heard speak in interviews, and I have thought, “No way. Those words on the paper DID NOT come out of so and so’s mouth.” After reading the above, I am 100% convinced that some sportswriters upgrade the words that come out of some athletes mouths in an effort to show the athlete in a better light.

You may ask why the Peppers quote makes this clear to me. I attended UNC during the time Peppers was a student athlete there. I can tell you. Of the many positive qualities he had, well spoken was not one of them (and I don’t mean that as an indictment of his intelligence, he just does not exhibit the ability to relay his thoughts effectively through the spoken word). I worked in various clubs and bars in the area and had conversations with him both in his college years and when he came back to visit Chapel Hill. I can say with profound certainty: The words attributed to him (above) could NOT have come out of his mouth. No WAY.

Have you ever heard him interviewed? I can remember watching a UNC basketball game at which Peppers was seated right behind the bench. During halftime of the show, the sideline reporter decided to interview him, as he had also played hoops back in his college days. I was watching the game with several friends from UNC that had played football with him….as SOON as he opened his mouth there was a collective GASP and someone said, “NO PEP! Don’t let them interview you!” All fears were realized. It was a horribly awkward and labored interview. You would have thought that Peppers could barely speak English (again, I am not claiming he is stupid or questioning his intelligence, I’m just saying he is poorly spoken).

Now, this wasn’t meant as an effort to rag on Peppers. It just makes me wonder: How often do reporters do this? If they write words and put quotes around them, the implication is that those words were verbatim out of the mouth of the speaker. I’m willing to bet every dime I have that Peppers never spoke in terms of evolution being fueled by speed.

The bottom line of my gripe is this: the sports writers are ROBBING us. They are depriving the reader of the joy of feeling superior to the athlete. What is more fun than reading a quote and saying to your self, “WHAT A DUMBASS!” What is more fun than the hilarity of athletes using broken grammar. Using words incorrectly. Mangling idioms and expressions. We need sports journalists to reexamine the ethical aspects of their work and undertake a renewed effort to ensure honesty in reporting. We don’t want the cleaned up verbiage of star athletes. We want them exposed in all their unintentional comedic glory. We can’t be better at sports than they are, but damn it, we can speak without sounding like a kindergarten dropout who just couldn’t understand the intricacies of hooked on phonics.


At 1:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can say from first-hand experience, what gets printed is often a far cry from what comes out of players' mouths. And it's generally not because sports journalists are trying to make a player look good. It's because sports journalists are buffet-grazing sloths who are too lazy to adequately maintain their personal hygiene, much less take accurate notes or tape interviews and then (GASP!) transcribe what was actually said.

At 3:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a journalist, I can tell you it's a part of the job description to give the readers something at least semi-coherent. Usually, if I edit something a player or coach says, it's to clarify what they meant, or to edit out some non-important part of the conversation. Often times, the quote you're reading is an amalgam of the entire interview, spliced together to convey the gist of what the interviewee has to say.

At 3:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a former sportswriter who did transcribe his interviews (or have someone do it for me), the cleanup that goes into quotes is largely in the area of making things grammatically printable. Players often speak stream-of-consciousness-style, and not in complete sentences. Since a boatload of ellipses doesn't look good in print, you have to put it together the best you can. That means taking out a lot of "umms", conjugating verbs correctly, and the like.

At 4:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

give 'em something semi-coherent, but at least keep it semi-real!


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