I'll never forget Derrick Rose's first playoff game last year. 36 points and 11 rebounds in an overtime win over Boston on the road and just remarkable poise for a rookie in his first playoff game. But i'll also remember his postgame interview where he could barely describe what he just did and sounded lost, blank and struggled for basic words.
It came as no surprise that he needed extra (illegal) help on the SAT to get into college. Hearing him speak showed me why. Another Black athlete who sounds illiterate despite being gifted athletically.
One of my pet peeves as a reporter and a fan is whenever I see an athlete sound like they failed remedial English. It's different than just nerves, it's how they come across with their word choice and their inability to answer a simple question.
Look at LeBron James and Kobe Bryant. Kobe's been polished since he was a kid and as he's grown older, he's mastered the art of being cryptic but giving well smoothed answers. LeBron, on the other hand, sounds dry and uncompelling. He still sounds unsure of himself and while he's guarded, his vocab sounds very elementary.
There's a wide list of athletes who knew what to say in front of a camera. The big difference is that most of the polished ones have a solid education or enough confidence to be cool under pressure.
Brandon Jennings is another example. A 20-year-old kid who went straight to Europe from HS, the NBA rookie sounds very polished, confident and represents that L.A. swagger (Gardena born) without looking like a deer in headlights.
I'm more hyper sensitive to this after reading Forty Million Dollar Slaves. A chapter talks about how Black athletes are commodified and packaged the minute their skills become evident from teenage years on. Those skills and the pro potential and the $$$ become more important than anything else and its created a generation of athletes who care more about that developing character and life skills.
The result: Money-making robots who have been de-fanged from the socio-political issues of the day. How can we expect athletes today to speak up on major issues when they can't even sound poised in a postgame interview?
(Sidenote: I saw former MLB All-Star Eric Davis touch on this point today on First Take when he debated the low number of African-Americans in baseball. Kids don't have fathers and surrogate fathers (AAU coaches and the like) don't do enough to teach real values, they see talent and future $$)
Having covered high school sports for three years, I've seen kids who are great interviews and kids who can't answer a basic question. I know it's a bit of nerves with a recorder in their face, but I notice a difference between kids who give you straight answers or those who just don't.
It's not just a sports thing. A lot of young people lack the skills to get their point across in an intelligent matter. In the spirit of keeping it real, they talk the same to their friends and adults without realizing how to switch it up for different situations.
James Baldwin said that language is "the most vivid and crucial key to identity." How you speak says a lot about where you come from and how you were raised. How you speak often defines who you are. And for Derrick Rose, LeBron James and other athletes, the way they talk says a lot more negative than positive.
My solution. Train these kids in high school (especially in college) on how to interview properly. Parents need to help as well. Companies also need to invest in these athletes to be better coached as well - that is, if they care more about their wellbeing than just $$$$. It's not just helpful for the media, it's better for their image because it's a necessary life skill. You'll be more marketable if you speak well and you'll be an adult who can stand on his own two feet without worrying what to say.