I don’t often publicly bash another sports writer. I might critique a particular article, suggesting a way it could’ve been written better, but actually call someone a bad reporter? I try really hard to resist that urge.
These people are, after all, my colleagues, and 99.99 percent of the time, they’ve been in the game longer than I. That, if nothing else, makes them potential future contacts. Alienating them would be unwise, and bashing someone who’s job I secretly want would just be petty.
But I can’t remain silent on this anymore. The 2012 Summer Olympics have already given us the greatest Olympian ever, the best women’s gymnastics team in U.S. history, the resurgence of the U.S. diving program, and maybe the only time in recorded history that the words “badminton” and “lose on purpose” have appeared in the same sentence.
Nevertheless, a black cloud hangs over London. And that cloud’s name is Andrea Kremer.
On the biggest sports stage there is, Kremer has absolutely crumbled under her responsibilities as NBC’s pool-side reporter. Her interviewing skills, simply put, stink.
The overwhelming majority of Kremer’s questions have been slightly reworded versions of the question “how are you feeling right now?” That’s the worst question a sports reporter can ask an athlete, and for two different reasons.
First, it’s the most generic question there is. It applies to any athlete, any sport and any outcome. It shows zero awareness of an athlete’s specific struggles and accomplishments. It reduces a person to a line on a scorecard.
Athletes with even modest exposure to the press quickly develop an auto-pilot mode when it comes to questions like this. Their answers reveal nothing, making the questions — and by extension, the interviewer — meaningless.
Not only is “how did it feel?” a generic question, it’s a deceptively difficult question. Any therapist will tell you that most people don’t know how to talk about their feelings — hence, so many Americans are in therapy — and it’s even tougher for athletes.
An athlete, after all, doesn’t train in expressing his or her feelings vocally. Instead, that athlete learns how to channel those feelings physically, to redirect them into the best on-the-field performance possible.
When a reporter like Kremer asks a swimmer how he or she is feeling, Kremer forces the swimmer to speak Kremer’s language, not the athlete’s. Kremer makes the interview about the reporter — one of journalism’s cardinal sins.
Unfortunately, it seems like Kremer only knows how to ask how an athlete is feeling. Whenever she tries a different topic, the result is a leading, incoherent, long-winded question that neither the athlete nor most MENSA members could answer satisfactorily. Not exactly an improvement.
But never fear, Ms. Kremer, because I’m here to help. My first stint as an Olympics reporter is still a few years away, but I’ve already started brainstorming the kinds of questions I’d like to ask.
Here are 10 sets of questions, all applicable to Olympic swimming and more likely to get a better response than “how are you feeling?”
- How are you planning to celebrate your medal tonight?
- Who is the first non-athlete, non-reporter you talked/will talk to, and what did/will you say?
- Was there a moment during the race when everything started clicking, when you felt particularly strongest?
- When you’re in the middle of a race, do you have specific phrases or thoughts that help you?
- What was your earliest Olympic memory?
- How does the reality of this moment compare with how you imagined it would be when you were younger?
- What’s the biggest sacrifice you made to reach this point? Has it been worth it?
- Was this a “perfect swim?” If not, what does one feel like?
- What did you learn from this race? How does this race make you better?
- What was the scouting report for this race? How did you expect your opponents to swim? Did they meet your expectations?
Feel free to use as many of these questions as you want. You don’t even have to thank me.
Learning more about these swimmers than how they were “feeling” when they won their medals (“good,” I’d imagine) will be thanks enough.