Nick Cummins, or the Honey Badger as he is also known, has a bit of a cult following in the rugby world.
Don’t know who I’m talking about? Watch the following interview.
And, as you might have guessed from the above video, much of the fanfare surrounding ‘the Badge’ comes from his off-field interview antics, and the predominantly informal style he adopts.
For example, in an interview with the Badge you can expect non-standard grammar, a strongly pronounced Australian accent, noticeably frequent use of the filler/modifier ‘bloody’, colloquialisms aplenty, and a bottomless bag of seamlessly delivered analogies, many of which involve animals.
And, as a style, it works well for him in the sports media context in which he operates. It captures audience attention (intentionally or unintentionally), and helps to define him in comparison to other players (and styles) in the rugby world. How exactly members of the audience react will no doubt vary considerably. Consider your own reactions to this interview; perhaps you laughed, found it strange, or even developed the overwhelming urge to have a beer or go on a fishing trip with him. However, whatever the reaction, his personal brand captures attention.
As a sports and media linguist, I am particularly interested in style and the different styles of public figures like professional athletes, coaches and managers. Part of this interest is on identifying why particular styles take off, and enjoy the warmth and adulation (or the opposite) of audiences.
In the case of Nick Cummins, this obviously has a bit to do with the unique and entertaining ways in which he is able to evaluate match events. He offers something different amongst the recurring tasks and responses of the post-match interview genre. In short: he entertains.
However, at a deeper level, his informal style also works to build a more personal relationship with his audience. Research shows that typically when people speak in the media they adopt a more formal tone. This is a completely understandable and legitimate course of action. After all, there is a large audience out there, and a formal style, one that does not venture too far outside of established boundaries, is a safe approach when faced with this large, heterogeneous audience.
Yet, when the majority of speakers (in this case athletes) adopt a formal approach, with standard linguistic features, a sameness prevails. And, perhaps more importantly, this formal approach constructs a formal relationship between the player and the fans. Formal relationships by definition are those where there is social distance between the people involved – i.e. there is less of a personal connection.
However, with Honey B’s informal style, you feel like you know more about his roots and who he is as a person (as opposed to just a rugby player), because he is speaking in an informal way, in a way we would imagine he speaks with his friends and family, and other relationships that are more personal in nature.
For athletes, coaches, managers or other public figures wishing to create a more personal relationship with their fans (and there are a number of reasons why this is a good goal to pursue), rest assured, one does not necessarily need to apply the Badge’s style template and flood the airwaves with Australianisms. There are many ways to develop a style that draws on your own values, beliefs and background that can help you to reduce the formal distance between you and your audience. The tools for this are in the language choices you make in the contexts you speak in.
And, once you develop a style, you will need to keep it up. Finding ways to ‘perform’ in line with your brand can be a challenge, particularly when people come to expect this of you. I imagine broadcasters love covering Western Force games, and that the Honey Badger will be at the top of the interview wish list for the upcoming Super Rugby seasons, regardless of his impact on the game. Audiences expect. Can ‘the Badge’ continue to deliver?