When you’re listening to a coach being interviewed after a game and think you’ve heard it all before, chances are… you have. Wake Forest professor and sports-quote scholar John Llewellyn has analyzed the boilerplates and clichés prolific among pro sports coaches. OTM sees if Llewellyn is “up to the challenge” of a Bob interview.
March 22, 2002
BOB GARFIELD: In other cliche news we are halfway down the road to the final four on the edge of our seats to see the next shoe drop and you know what that means.
MAN:Any team that can come in and doesn't make a lot of mistakes, shoots the ball well, doesn't turn it over, rebounds well, and that's -- I'm describing Southern Illinois -- certainly is not going to beat themselves. You've got to beat them.
BOB GARFIELD:Yes, it means Coach-Speak -- pre- and post-game boiler-plate which according to a shocking academic study by Wake Forest University Professor John Llewellyn turns NCAA coaches and other sports figures into purveyors of triteness.
JOHN LLEWELLYN: Yes, but they give 110 percent effort.
BOB GARFIELD: [LAUGHS] Yeah, gotcha. But let, let me ask you my last question first -- academic research into sports cliches. How exactly does this serve mankind?
JOHN LLEWELLYN: Well the fact of the matter is although the public perception of rhetoric is that it's a shorthand word for saying "I disagree with you," that in reality we all have persuasive language approaches, and whether that's a sportscaster or a radio commentator or a politician, when you look at the way they use language, you understood their world better than before.
BOB GARFIELD: Could you give me a top ten cliche list?
JOHN LLEWELLYN:You will hear, you know, how well the other team played, how everybody left it on the court, how the losers are heartbroken, with or without tears depending upon personality traits and, and sort of how far along the ultimate path you are. The, the, the winning coaches' acts of humility are always interesting to me because it's of course these are fiercely competitive and yet at the moment when they've had their greatest success, they understand the wisdom of treating their success in sort of lower case. You know -- I didn't score a basket, you know, we coach these kids and the kids did all the work and-- but the other thing to consider about that is that you know even cliches may be true.
BOB GARFIELD: Is this the result of generations of athletes being burned by giving honest, spontaneous responses?
JOHN LLEWELLYN:I think the possibility of getting burned is, is a part of this, but I also think there's sort of an etiquette of competition that, that leads to fierce on-court efforts and very genteel off-court responses. There's an old Bear Bryant line -- at least I've heard it attributed to him -- that you know if you want to have a whole lot of trouble on Saturday, just run your mouth on Friday. In any competition it's impolitic to, to do anything to fire up your opponent.
BOB GARFIELD:Why don't coaches and athletes themselves simply process the question and instead of searching for some appropriate response actually say what they're thinking, or have they actually [LAUGHS] come to believe the canned response they're about to mouth anyway?
JOHN LLEWELLYN: I think that your latter answer is more likely. The world of this kind of approach to sport has become self-creating and self-defining, because you - if you listen carefully now even, even high school athletes make the same sorts of attributions and talk in the same way as college athletes and college coaches. It's really sort of an oral tribal culture where people have learned from their elders how to understand the cosmos.
BOB GARFIELD: Well I just want to say this has been one of the greatest experiences of my life, [LAUGHTER] and first I want to thank God for the opportunity to talk with you and thank you for coming on the show.
JOHN LLEWELLYN: [LAUGHS] My pleasure.
BOB GARFIELD:John Llewellyn is an associate professor of communication at Wake Forest University. Now John I want you to get out there and profess, and I want you to get out there and communicate! Let's go! [CLAPPING HANDS]
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