Do we really want athletes and coaches to be candid when microphones are in their face and pens are scribbling every word? Do we detest the tired clichés and canned answers that we hear coming before a question is completed? Do we actually want unfiltered honesty in the participants’ thoughts on what really happened out there?
We talk a good game. But sometimes it seems like Jack Nicholson should channel Colonel Jessup and shout in our face: “You can’t handle the truth!”
Pure veracity can make us uncomfortable, causing us to squirm mentally as process unordinary responses. Conversely, we don’t think twice when hearing the type of replies that Crash Davis gave Nuke LaLoosh in Bull Durham.
“Clichés are your friends,” the veteran told the rookie. “‘We gotta play ‘em one day at time. … ‘I’m just happy to be here; hope I can help the ball club. … I just wanna give it my best shot and, the good Lord willing, things will work out.’”
When LaLoosh complained that the answers are boring, Davis said “that’s the point.”
Seeing little upside in going off-script, most athletes stay within the safety zone of mundane comments. When a few do venture out, they rarely point a finger at the strategists, leaving that time-honored practice to fans and media. But a pair of star halfbacks – the Minnesota Vikings’ Adrian Peterson and Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott – broke that taboo recently, giving all of us something to talk about.
Peterson went there Sunday after the Vikings’ 38-7 loss against the Seahawks. “I feel like we were out of sync,” he told reporters. “You definitely have to give credit to Seattle for coming in and forcing us to do things differently. They were just a better team. They were more aggressive, played more physical and they outcoached us as well.”
Naturally, reporters asked him to expound on the last point. Failing to do so would’ve been a dereliction of duty.
He didn’t go into specifics, just saying the Vikings were outcoached “in so many different areas. And outplayed, too, in so many different areas.” He had a season-low five first-half carries as Seattle went ahead, 14-0, and finished with eight for the game. On Tuesday, he stood by the remarks he made two days earlier.
“I addressed how I felt about the situation,” Peterson told reporters. “That was it.” He said two runs could’ve been touchdowns if he made different decisions, stressing that he did have opportunities to change the game. “I would rather people point that out than things about my carries,” he said. “But I guess that wouldn’t cause much of a ruffle.”
It creates a stir because we’re so unaccustomed to players saying coaches didn’t perform well. That’s true in the NFL and especially at a place like Ohio State, where Urban Myers is among the game’s unquestioned dictators. But Elliott didn’t think much of the coaching after the 17-14 home loss against Michigan a few weeks ago.
The star tailback had only 12 carries and was “disappointed” in the play calling. “It hurts a lot because of how we lost,” he told reporters after the game. “We weren’t put in the right situations to win this game. It’s kind of something we’ve seen all season, honestly. We’ll have some momentum, we’re calling plays that work and then we kind of try to get away from it and try to get cute and run some other stuff.”
Two days later, Myer supported the sentiment, though not the placement. “Zeke is a very honest guy,” he told reporters. “Frustration, anger, probably mounted up. I couldn’t disagree with him; he should’ve got the ball a little more. But that’s not the place for that (commentary).”
Coaches don’t want to be called out in public. It’s OK for them to say “we were outcoached and have to do a better job,” but it’s heresy if players say the same thing.
However, it’s OK for either group to say “we were outplayed and have to execute better.” In fact, players are encouraged to engage solely in self-reflection, to avoid giving the impression of questioning authority.
We live in a society that loves to assess fault and assign blame. But sometimes the answer is really simple when a team loses: The other team is better, period.
Nonetheless, I’d love to hear a coach say something like this: “The other coach kicked my butt. My players did the best they could but my game plan was terrible.” A player could keep the veracity flowing with this: “Yes, our strategy was ill-conceived and poorly constructed.
“But we gave 110 percent.”