By Steve May, copywriter and consultant at Rockatansky.
That classic stereotype of a rugby league player being interviewed usually goes along the lines of, “Yeah, nah, yeah, nah, played hard, yeah, nah, yeah, nah game of two halves.”
Battering rams. Ball catch-and-throwers. We mock and mimic their performance when stringing words together on camera or radio.
We silo them as the stereotypical ‘boof-heads’ who sometimes say the wrong thing on air, drop an f-bomb, or umm and ahh their way through a press conference.
But let me ask you this…have you ever had a microphone placed in front of you, with a camera pointed towards you, cans on your head, flanked by a crowd, and asked a question?
I have. And here’s what I discovered: it ain’t an easy thing to do.
Articulating a thought on the spot, so that you’re not offending anyone, nor saying something incorrectly, while delivering a succinct point of view (which will be also recorded for posterity), is horrendously difficult.
One word out of place. One muddled thought. One mistake and you’re toast.
Deviating a little, look at politicians. Hate ‘em or hate ‘em, I often think they cop a bad wrap when it comes to this – and they’re supposedly the media experts. Front steps of parliament, a battalion of video bazookas locked on you, microphones close enough to lick, and you’re required to answer hefty questions (usually constructed to trip you up) with answers that have real-life impact, without offending or upsetting constituents, political colleagues and Australia – all while being careful not to give your opposition the opportunity to dive from the top rope into the ring, elbows-first onto your sternum, at the sniff of a loose argument.
No wonder politicians talk…so…slowly.
Being interviewed is less about playing a piece of methodically-practiced music and more about jazz. It’s improvisation. The script is gone. Forget palm cards. It’s just you and a Sony aimed squarely at your noggin.
Oh, and if you look to the ground you appear unsure, you look sideways you’re lying and if you look to the sky you’d rather be a lunch.
Ok? Just remember all that as you give your answer. Go.
Crossing back to the football (starting to sound more and more like Peter Sterling, here), the modern football player cops more flak than they deserve when it comes to interviews and talking on camera in general.
A little media training helps, but the majority of these players aren’t natural public speakers.
Too bad. You have no choice, now.
Even as players canter from field at half time, knackered, interviewing seagulls swoop with mics in-hand, shooting questions as steam rises from bruised shoulders and lungs beg for oxygen. All this creates drama, and is effective. But put yourself in the players’ footy boots: can’t be easy when your team is behind, you’re on national television, and all you want to do is scream expletives and kick a Gatorade bucket.
Guess this is what they call media training on the run.
But if these players are, in fact, as inept as we jest they are, why have so many done so well for themselves, post-career, in front of cameras and microphones?
The Peter Sterlings, the Gus Goulds and Matthew Johns of the world are slick, quick-witted media personalities, highly respected within the industry and in general. On radio, television – LIVE television, no less – we listen, we learn, disagree, and giggle.
Not bad for a bunch of footballers.
Even more ironic is that many of the ‘bad boys’ of the sport end up as respected talking heads for the game. I’m talking those who were supposedly only effective with ball in-hand and fist in-face. Steve Roach has co-commentated for years. Paul Gallen, he’s on air more than John Laws. While Michael Ennis (The Menace) is wonderfully eloquent and a star in the making. Perhaps it’s years of heckling on the field that’s given them the gift of the gab?
Then there’s Mark Geyer, the wrecking-ball from Penrith. The infamous villain, starring in every State Of Origin highlight clip manhandling Wally Lewis (also now a much loved media personality). Who, from speaking with his forehead, now chats for hours each morning on breakfast radio, conversing with politicians and celebrities, hitting us with a booming laugh, rather than a cheeky right. Is this a boof-head or a driven individual who’s obviously discovered that words are as effective as haymakers?
Examples like this can be found all over our screens and along the radio dial. In fact, you’ve only to switch to the 24 hour league channel on pay TV to see a gaggle of players etching formidable careers in front of cameras and behind lapel mics.
For those still playing, I’d hazard a guess that one of the hardest parts of the game isn’t when you’re run at by a flying second rower, but rather, when the media comes running at you.