Face-To-Face Matters

June 3rd, 2021

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Talk’s cheap — and necessary.

The Naomi Osaka saga at the French Open has triggered a national debate on whether pro athletes should be obligated to speak to the media at the conclusion of a day’s competition.

As a former beat reporter for the Bucs, Lightning and New York Giants, please allow me to add my two sense: Hell yes!

Hearing from athletes post-game adds color and information for both the reporter and the fan. I learned it the hard way as a young NFL writer in New York, working for United Press International.

“Your players shouldn’t avoid us — for the good of the game.”

When you work for a wire service, you are expected to file a preliminary game story within minutes of the final buzzer. In this particular case, I wrote that a Giants defensive back was beaten for the winning touchdown. But when I scoured the locker room, it became apparent that my “victim” was merely hustling, trying to cover an open receiver who wasn’t his responsibility.

You don’t get that detail in a Zoom call, where you converse only with the players and coaches the team makes available.

The post-game locker room can be a treasure trove.

That’s where I saw Kenyatta Walker holding court on the victory stand at Veterans Stadium, having fun with his gang of maligned cohorts while posing for a picture with the NFC championship trophy.

“Hey, Christy, get on up here,” said Walker, searching the chaotic Bucs locker room for veteran center Jeff Christy. “Where are you, Christy? Let’s get everyone from this below- average line up here.”

“Below average, ” that Sunday’s war cry for the men paid to protect Brad Johnson. For much of a 12-4 regular season, Tampa Bay’s offensive line was reminded of its shortcomings. The criticism continued unabated, even after a 31-6 playoff dismantling of San Francisco.

Here’s the next paragraph:

“How many sacks did Philly have? None. And we scored when we had to score,” Walker crowed. “What are the critics going to say now? All year long, people said this line was horrible. I kept hearing a song in my head this weekend – below average. I heard a couple of guys on TV this very morning saying Tampa Bay couldn’t get it done with this offensive line.”

Zoom will never cut it for fans, writes Ira Kaufman.

Standing a few feet away, Bill Muir, the craggy guru of Tampa Bay’s offensive line, was undeniably proud of his trench warriors.

“I can’t express my feelings … words are inadequate,” said Muir. “No one thought we had a chance. All we needed for motivation today was films of our last game here, when we gave up six sacks. I’ve been in this league 24 years and guess what? I’m finally going to the Super Bowl. Somebody better pinch me.”

Speaking of that 20-10 loss in Philly during the 2002 regular season, I knew Simeon Rice would provide some post-game juice.

“This is only the beginning for us,” Rice told me. “We’ve got charisma, we’ve got character and we were tested today. We played hard and I expect to see the Eagles again this year. We’ll be ready.”

Were they ever.

When Buc fans picked up The Tampa Tribune on the day after a brutal 17-10 playoff loss to Washington, when the Redskins could muster only 120 yards of total offense, they found typical perspective from Ronde Barber.

“The only statistic that matters,” Barber said, “is the one we don’t have.”

Osaka is a terrific tennis player and let’s hope she gets the help she needs to treat her bouts of depression. But her aversion to post-match interviews shouldn’t soften the stance of sports leagues toward media obligations.

Fans want to know what their favorite athletes think … especially when things don’t go well. The right quote can make or break a story, just like the one veteran defensive end Kevin Carter gave me at the conclusion of the 2008 Buc season.

A 9-3 club had just finished the season with a 4-game losing streak, missing the playoffs and triggering Jon Gruden’s dismissal.

The December collapse coincided with Monte Kiffin’s announcement that he would be leaving after the season to join his son, Lane, at the University of Tennessee. The Raiders, who averaged a mere 16 points per game that year, had just scored 10 fourth-quarter points en route to a 31-24 triumph that stunned the crowd at RayJay.

When I spotted Carter getting ready to leave the locker room, I pounced.

“What a wonderful man, what a great coach,” Carter said. “Right now, my heart breaks for Kiff.”

Yes, he said it. And because someone was there to record it and write it, Buc fans got the chance to read it.

Perspective, insight, emotion. That’s how it’s supposed to work.

Let’s keep it going.

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5 Responses to “Face-To-Face Matters”

  1. Tampabaybucfan Says:

    Speaking to the media….answering questions….that’s part of the job…..you can’t do that, you don’t deserve the big money or the trophies….

    The media is there for the fans…..the fans pay….that’s the bottom line.

  2. D-Rome Says:

    Excellent article. While I feel for Naomi Osaka’s struggles this is part of the job. She was fined and that was the correct course of action.

  3. August 1976 Buc Says:

    We understand people come in all shapes and sizes and ways different of thinking. But Athletes need to understand that the media comes with the territory. Whether it be negative or positive, it is what it is. So if you are going to be a professional athlete this is how it is, whether right or wrong it is how Pro sports are. I hope Naomi will gets past this, who knows some do and some do not. But hard reality is the media and Pro Sports will continue to function hand in hand, it is the nature of the beast. I hope Naomi gets well. And can go on and excell in life.

  4. R.O. Says:

    Sorry.. Just because your livelihood depends on access doesn’t mean they have to talk to you or make themselves available. Athletes don’t owe the Press or “fans” anything.

  5. stpetebucsfan Says:

    I absolutely agree that sports is entertainment and the press deserves the post game interviews as they are part of that entertainment.

    But Osaka dropped out with a statement that she didn’t wish to be a distraction since her depression made it near impossible to do post game interviews. She took her medicine gracefully.