I have long held the opinion that interviewing sportsmen and women immediately after they have completed a match, round, race or game is as useful as asking your cat what it would like for breakfast. Why, for example, do we need a quarterback to describe the winning touchdown when we have seen nineteen replays of the event from twelve different angles? "I threw the ball to a wide receiver in the back of the end-zone who caught it." Right. We knew that already.
Lucrative sponsorship deals have compelled many athletes to develop their public speaking skills with varying degrees of success. The Peyton Mannings and Michael Jordans of the sports world have an easy, polished delivery. Occasionally they even say something interesting. But many athletes employ a mode of speech that seems to have evolved in an environment free of natural predators, so that redundancy flourishes like a bizarre marsupial. Semi-rhetorical questions such as "you know," "know what I mean," and "you know what I'm saying," are used as commas and periods. We are told by announcers "that's a wonderful golf shot," presumably to eliminate any confusion in our mind that we might be watching hockey.
Even the most engaging speakers are frequently forced to sound like total twits due to the aforementioned sponsorship deals.
"Jeff, a great race today. Tell us about the closing laps."
"Thanks Rusty. I'd like to thank God, my crew, Ricky-Raccoon-Racing, Goodyear, Chevrolet, Castrol, Viagra, Pepsi, Branflakes, Southwest Airlines, Pabst Blue Ribbon, Tampax, Slim Jim, Joe's Laundromat and Bait Shop..."
Perhaps because I am older than most such interviewees I tend to attribute these "sportsisms" to a disease of youth. Two hours ago, however, I was forced to revise that opinion thanks to an in-game interview with Detroit Tigers' manager Jim Leyland. Leyland, now in his early nineties, is old school in every sense of the term. I was therefore horrified when he responded to one of the announcer's questions with "It is what it is." My first reaction was that I must have misheard him. The Metrodome is notoriously noisy and Leyland had added to the problem by choosing to position the microphone on his headset directly over his nose. However, a few sentences later he repeated the phrase.
"WHAT IS IT?" I screamed at the screen. At some level I think I just felt left out. Apparently everyone other than me knows what "it" is.
I suppose if one is generous one can view "it is what it is" as a modern incarnation of the once popular "que sera, sera." The latter, however, in employing the future tense at least offers the hope that we may at some point discover what it is (or, to be pedantic, what will be). Further, despite being fundamentally self-evident, the phrase does communicate the concept of kizmit and has the added benefit of being foreign and thus sophisticated.
For reasons that defy my understanding, the directors and producers of televised poker events have concluded that the ideal time to interview a poker player is immediately after he or she has busted out from a tournament. At such times the last thing I want to do is talk to anyone about anything. But even fellow players can be staggeringly oblivious. Immediately after I busted out of the 2006 WSOP Main Event and was heading through the Rio labyrinth to find an exit so I could kill myself through chain smoking I was intercepted by a poker-playing colleague. He offered a few brief words of condolence about the $10k that I had yesterday but didn't have today, then asked me if I wanted to split cab fare to go to the nearest Office Max so he could get a new battery for his laptop. I haven't spoken to him since.
One of the advantages of being a low-profile poker player is that I have never been confronted by Norm Chad stuffing a microphone under my snout and asking me how I feel about suddenly being poorer. There are players, of course, who provide wonderful TV on such occasions. Hellmuth's rants about the stupidity of his opponents and his abysmal luck are invariably entertaining. I could listen for hours to a David "Devilfish" Ulliot interview as he meanders effortlessly from how his aces got cracked to the fact his girlfriend is the third most attractive woman in China and that his uncle was rescued from a desert island by the Titanic. It is a great shame that less than five per cent of Americans can understand more than a few words of what David says.
Alas the ipso busto facto interview can also unleash the phrase that I dislike above all others. It is our equivalent, I suppose, of "it is what it is," but irks me far more for the simple reason that I dislike a representative of my profession sounding like a complete asshat.
"So, John, tell us about that last hand."
"Well Norm, I picked up AK under the gun, shoved, got called by Annie in the big blind with AQ, and she flopped a Q. But... You know... That's poker."
Indeed it is.