Money is one of the benefits of a career in professional sport. But talking about it publicly can be face threatening for athletes.
Financial news ‘events’ in sport, such as prize money, television broadcast deals, agency fees, record breaking contracts, transfer price tags and player auctions, as in the case of the Indian Premier League (IPL) are just some of the financially-motivated storylines covered by the sports media. In cases where players themselves are the direct beneficiaries, they can be asked to provide their thoughts, feelings or reactions in media interviews.
For many players, it will be important to negotiate questions and interviews about money carefully, as the way they respond to this socially awkward topic can have an impact on their perception in public.
Not saying anything or saying “no comment” are two legitimate strategies that can be useful for some questions and situations. However, if you do find yourself needing to go ‘on record’ about money, what strategies might be useful to keep in mind? New Zealand cricketer Trent Boult provided a few examples in a recent interview following his NZ$814,000 Indian Premier League auction windfall. Looking at these examples might help other athletes think about how they can publicly negotiate questions about money in their context.
Below are Trent Boult’s quotes and some thoughts on how he negotiated this interview situation. Here is a link to the complete article, and here’s some further information on the IPL auction the quotes are in response to.
- Headline: Black Caps quick Trent Boult gobsmacked by ‘once in a lifetime’ IPL deal
- “It was pretty exciting there for a couple of minutes. You could imagine sitting around a computer screen with a couple of mates and not really knowing what was going to happen,” said Boult, who reckoned it hadn’t actually sunk in yet.
- “I don’t know how my confidence levels were, it was just a pretty unique experience. It’s something I felt I had no control over. I put my name into an auction a couple of months ago then you just let it happen.”
- “The guys were pretty elated for me. Everyone’s pretty close and tight knit and it was pretty special just to share it with a couple of mates and go through something like that because it is a once in a lifetime thing,” Boult said.
- “It was exciting but the focus is still on the World Cup. There’s a lot of cricket to be played between now and then and that’s definitely my focus.
- Prepare suitable evaluative words or phrases for your audience: Trent evaluated the IPL Auction as a “once in a lifetime” event and also indicated (directly or indirectly, it’s not clear) that he was “gobsmacked” by the amount of money his services were purchased for. Both of these choices are a nod to a New Zealand audience who appreciate modesty. By choosing ‘gobsmacked’ he is likely to align with how the public are feeling about the sum of money, and by assessing it is a once in a lifetime deal he is not making any huge claims about his value. These words and phrases are a good fit for a New Zealand audience and for the IPL auction, but are probably not suitable choices when discussing a lucrative contract extension or a record transfer fee – different evaluative terms are probably more suitable in this context. Your evaluative words and phrases often end up in the headlines of the story (as they did here), so putting some thought into them before being interviewed is time well spent.
- Get those formulaic phrases ready: “It hasn’t sunk in yet” is a cliché, but, like all clichés, it’s a very useful one. While it may, of course, be true, this particular phrase can also help athletes both give an answer and move the interviewer on at the same time. If “it hasn’t sunk in yet” you are hinting to the interviewer that as well as being difficult to process you can’t really talk about it rationally yet. The interviewer, who is responsible for keeping an interview moving, will then be under pressure to move the interview agenda on from ‘how you’re feeling’ to other aspects of the topic, or even away from the it altogether. A lot of athletes are wary (and perhaps weary?) of clichés, but they are useful, tried and tested ways to negotiate potentially face-threatening questions and situations in many walks of life.
- Direct attention from the amount to the process or outcome: Trent was fortunate that he also had an actual event to talk about (a live auction where players can watch themselves being bid for and auctioned off to teams). This allowed him to divert attention away from the amount of money he stands to gain (often the face-threatening bit) to the auction event itself. The quotes show he was comfortable talking about how exciting and unique the auction was and where and with whom he watched it. In other money-related situations, there may be aspects connected to the topic that are less problematic and more comfortable to evaluate. In contract or transfer situations, this might include the outcome of the contract process, i.e. that you are now playing for club ‘X’ and what that means.
- Shift the focus back to the sport: connected to the above point, many athletes will be keen to move the focus altogether from money back onto sport, as Trent does here in the last quote. This is a legitimate move for athletes as your sporting abilities and actions are primarily why you are being interviewed in the first place.
While money may not be the reason why you play the game, the narrative of greedy sports players chasing the cash is well established, and may be unfairly applied to you in times of financial gain. When you need to give your reactions to a financial matter, negotiating the interview or questions carefully can help you do as much as you possibly can to resist this narrative.