In Defense of "Talk About," The Two Dirtiest Words in Sports Reporting
By Kyle Koster
Media is discussed as a monolith and critics paint with the biggest, broadest brush they can grab. The Fourth Estate definitely needs repairs. The gutters of bias and self-service are overflowing. The lawn is brown and patchy with the seeds of laziness and lowest-common denominator content. Trust me, I know. I’m a sports blogger incapable of holding a flame in close proximity of those who have mastered the craft. I don’t have all the answers and am not an oracle knowing the best questions. But I have a hill.
That hill is a lonely one. A summit for contrarians. A place for those who buck conventional wisdom. And though I won’t die on it, my commitment is firm. Talk About, as a prompt, is fine. The backlash is far too severe.
Talk About has taken its lumps. There seems to be great consternation whenever a journalists begins a sentence with these two dirty words. We entered a new phase of the conversation this afternoon when Boston Red Sox starter Chris Sale was asked to “talk about” his success against the New York Yankees this season.
Sale declined the opportunity, as is his right.
The pithy response is clever and Sale is receiving accolades for his handling of the polarizing interview method.
But here’s the thing so many people miss. Sale’s response is telling and of editorial value. That he doesn’t want to talk about it is a jumping-off point. He wants to turn the page. The playoffs wipe everything clean. He’s completely focused for is biggest start of the year. All of these are pegs for the sidebar meant to cover Sale vs. the Yankees. A good writer can glean and discern.
Talk About is not the best option, and perhaps not even a good one. There is no substitute for a direct and insightful question. The person serving up Talk About is not painting the black with a 97 mph fastball. Talk About can often turn into a waste pitch.
That said, think of all the softball questions. The questions asking “what did you think when X” and “how did you feel about Y” or those that basically inquire about the same topic as Talk About, but have a question mark at the end. Are they all superior? Or, perhaps more to the point, are they any different?
Athletes and coaches are prompted to respond to a topic. Open-endedness is valued. Talk About, for its faults, is limitless in its scope. The interviewee can expand in any direction, explore any avenue. It’s better in a post- or pre-game and less so in longform.
Also think of all the cliche call-and-response that we see in the sports world each and every day. Talk About is railed against as a scourge while the bloated, fatty, and entirely useless portion of the program escapes, largely, without scrutiny.
Questions and non-questions alike should be judged by the answers. Talk About so often performs on par with — and occasionally better — than its differently punctuated cousins.
We’ve made a mountain out of a molehill and I’ll stand on either. Talk About is fine.