Commentary

Hector and Eels expose serial banality of the obligatory interview

A few years ago I was at the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C., to see the LA band Eels. Before they came on stage we were shown video clips of the band's front man Marc Oliver Everett, one of which was a TV interview from the archives. The reporter asked Everett where he found the inspiration for his songs. "Everywhere," replied the singer. "In fact I'm writing a song right now." Really? said the interviewer. What's it called? "Inane interview," deadpanned Everett, and the entire night club roared its appreciation.

I'm reminded of Everett almost every time I watch a post-game interview. The ratio of life hours wasted to worthwhile insight has been declared by the American Mathematical Society as immeasurable -- there is no number small enough to represent 'worthwhile insight.' Still, broadcasters have paid for the right to talk to players who have just finished a physically and mentally taxing job, and they have air time to fill. With air. Here's what we learn. Sportsperson has won: they are happy. Also, it was a team effort and our fans are magnificent (as they always are after a win). Sportsperson has lost: they are disappointed, but hope to do better next time. Sorry to the fans we let down.

Being good sports, most players wipe off their sweat, don a smile or a grimace, and endure the contractual obligation to face the mind-numbing queries of the reporter. Sometimes, though, the cameras catch the wrong player at the wrong moment, and the result is a glorious slap in the face to this whole vacuous charade. Step forward the captain of FC Cologne, former German international Jonas Hector.

On Wednesday last week, Hector came off the field fuming after his side's 0-1 home defeat to Holstein Kiel in the Bundesliga relegation playoff game. As Hector let referee Felix Zwayer know what he thought of his performance (kicker magazine gave Zwayer its lowest rating, a 6), the commentators on streaming service DAZN talked excitedly about how they couldn't wait to get Hector in front of the mic. They soon did, but then they got a little more than they bargained for.

First, they invited Hector to let off some steam. Why should I do that, asked Cologne's baffled and clearly aggrieved captain? OK then, let's try a question, said the interviewer. Was this a just result? Hector shrugged. From his point of view a draw would have been fairer, "but the result is that we lost 1-0." What does it look like inside you, asked the reporter. How empty are you feeling? At this point, Hector snapped back: "Always these shit questions. Empty, I mean, I know it's your job to ask stupid questions, and that's something you do really well. The thing is, I'm not empty, I just played 90 minutes, I'm disappointed we lost, and on Saturday [in the return game] we've got the chance to do better and turn it around.”*

"One more stupid question," said the reporter, now somewhat on the defensive. "How important will the mental work be for Saturday, to tell yourselves that it's only halftime, we can still do this?" Hector gave up at this point. "At the moment," he replied, "I just don't have an answer to that question." The reporter then released him back into the free world, no doubt to the relief of both parties.

Kicker labeled Hector's conduct as "unprofessional," but then the magazine is also DAZN's media partner. The daily Süddeutsche Zeitung implied that Hector should have been angrier at his own performance than at the blameless reporter. It seems odd, however, that soccer journalists -- many of whom have never played soccer at pro or even amateur level -- can base entire careers on criticizing players' performances from up in the stands, yet when a player bridles at their utterly banal or senseless questions, they are upbraided for breaching the established conventions of the industry.

For those of us watching at home, though, Hector's performance garnered the loudest cheer of the day. He was merely saying what everyone else thinks when they watch the nonsensical postgame blabathon: your questions are stupid. So stupid that, in the end, I can not even summon the will to answer one more.

Hector probably was angry at his own performance, and he took it out both on the referee and DAZN. Maybe if he'd had, say, 10 or 15 minutes to calm down and reflect on the game, he'd have given the reporter a coherent interview. In that time, the reporter could have considered some better questions based on what had actually happened out on the field, rather than trying to cash in on Hector's obvious frustration. But when clueless hacks rush for the emotional quote too soon after the final whistle, the result is almost always: inane interview. Props to Jonas Hector and Marc Oliver Everett for refusing to play along.

*Cologne 'did the mental work' and the physical work too and won the return game in Kiel 5-1, meaning they will continue to play in the Bundesliga next season. Hector scored the go-ahead goal in the third minute.

7 comments about "Hector and Eels expose serial banality of the obligatory interview".
  1. frank schoon, May 31, 2021 at 12:25 p.m.

    I hope more players will begin to answer questions that way for it forces the Soccer Journalist to begin to ask more insightful questions about the game.  I wish there was an unwritten rule whee upon soccer journalist must at least have played a few years of pro-soccer....

  2. Chris Wasdyke replied, May 31, 2021 at 12:42 p.m.

    Does that mean reporters have to be President before interviewing them?

  3. frank schoon replied, May 31, 2021 at 1:57 p.m.

    Chris, If you don't understand by now that reporters are much better in reporting and explaining soccer to their readers if they have a backround in the sport than I can't help you. Like I say, the more you have experience in the field of a particular endeavor ,the better....That is why referees who have played the game at a high level can see and can read the nuances better than a ref who hasnn't played at a high level.

    Likewise a reporter who was a former politician would be much better in interviewing a president than one wasn't.....

  4. R2 Dad, May 31, 2021 at 8:59 p.m.

    I do think these interviews could be more insightful if they were less scripted. By now everyone knows the fastest way to get them over with, as that is the main goal. Very painful to watch. 

  5. Jason Davis, June 2, 2021 at 1:37 p.m.

    Personally, I dislike these interviews occurring at all. Reporters aren't looking for insight, they are looking for "hot take" material that they can use later. I think it's a shame that players and coaches are forced (for money) to do these- no matter the sport. The in-game interviews/halftime interviews are even worse. Does anyone really think the coach wants to talk to the commentators during a game? I don't care how much money a player/coach makes, they shouldn't have to do these types of in-game or immediate post-game interviews. Later, once things have settled down, sure. But not in the heat of the moment.

  6. James Madison, June 2, 2021 at 2:42 p.m.

    As a once-upon-a-time print reporter who did play, referee and coach, I think Hector was spot on!!

  7. Ben Myers, June 3, 2021 at 10:01 a.m.

    When does the interviewer cross the line from news gatherer to newsmaker himself?  Why just provoke an athlete into an intemperate remark and voila!  You have news to report.  Is it any wonder that Naomi Osaka and others get all stressed out by the paparazzi press?  Sideline reporters are complete garbage in any sport. 

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