A popular expression that tends to get used when people make asinine comments to a member of the media is “What were you thinking?” It is a common retort used to illustrate when someone has said something so utterly without merit that the reporter doesn’t feel the urge to mount a counter reply. Recently, Luke Scott, a muscle-headed, mouth-breathing Baltimore Oriole baseball player, who clearly cut many a history class in order to spend an additional hour in his school’s Chik Fil-A sponsored batting cage, made some monumentally dumb off the cuff remark about Barack Obama not being an American citizen. This sort of remark has faded a bit from its mid-2009 health care hysteria peak, but you still hear the occasional Manchurian candidate nonsense rearing its jingoistic head. I don’t expect Luke Scott to say anything worth listening to. What passes for discourse between athletes and reporters is the general ever flowing stream of “I’m going to go out there and do the best I can and, God willing, my teammates and I will get a win” type truisms that are taught to these folks in six hour cram session classes run by slime bucket agents who are looking to make their commodities more marketable to the slab of the American public that loves to hear the same thing over and over again.
I really could care less what Luke Scott has to say. What annoyed me was the glib, dismissive way that Yahoo writer Steve Henson rejected his remark in his recent free agency winners and losers column. Obviously Steve, we know what he was thinking. He was very clear about that in his statement. He was thinking that Obama was born in another country and, therefore, is an “illegitimate” President. The question seems to not be geared to mock what he was thinking, but his inability to know that when a reporter is around it is your job as an athlete to spout nothing but inoffensive, meaningless, Hallmark card style platitudes. Henson was really asking, “How could he not know that saying this would make him look ignorant? Doesn’t he know that it is his station in life to carry on this endless tradition of banal player interviews that we so love and revere? Why didn’t he just say something like “Obama will be fine if he gives this whole being born in the United States thing 110 percent”?
One of the unnamed right of passage exams that an athlete goes through on the way to householdnamedom is the “Can you say absolutely nothing of substance every time you are within 50 feet of a microphone” test. This is why listening to most athletes being interviewed is a highly painful endeavor. It’s as if the interviewer and the player a conspiring to cover up any human characteristics the athlete could possibly have. Occasionally, we are treated to colorful dimwits like Charles Barkley or Curt Schilling who say embarrassing “what the average guy is thinking” sorts of things, but mostly it’s just more of the “It was my childhood dream” sort of garbage. The Barkley/Schilling type stuff is awful for other reasons, but at least when I listen to it I know that their is a human being in there instead of a piece of equipment that runs a 4.3 40.
There is an upside to athletes feeling they have the ability to express themselves with some degree of freedom. For one, I now know that Luke Scott, once only known to me as the guy I might pick instead of Edwin Encarnacion in the 14th round of my AL keeper league draft, is a raving lunatic. Luke Scott has gone from 27 homeruns and 72 RBIs to a real human with definable features. I can like him or dislike him based on his ideas. Maybe there are a few Bill “Spaceman” Lee, Dock Ellis or Jim Bouton types who really have something unique to say. There is a real loss sports fans experience when athletes do not speak their minds. It is the loss of the chance to meet these players as human beings with real ideas and emotions. The ideas they have may be shameful, obnoxious, or ill informed but they remind us that we are living in a world of humans who feel, think and dream just like we do.