Laviolette on Briere on Bryzgalov; Or, Reading into Quotes

Now why would I lie to you?

Consider this a quick cautionary reminder about reading sports coverage.

Flyers coach Peter Laviolette sought to quell controversy around a Danny Briere quote about Ilya Bryzgalov being -- to paraphrase and prove this point even further -- finally a good teammate the last couple of weeks.

It's of course in Laviolette's interest to disarm budding media-expanded controversy that could affect his locker room, but whether it applies in the Briere-Bryzgalov case or not, his point is one worth remembering as we read snippets of hockey coverage from space-limited articles by underpaid, deadline-chasing beatwriters:

In talking to Danny that’s not what he meant. (It was) the way the article was written and the way it came across. Danny tried to say that today in the newspaper, because Danny felt bad on the way it came across. And you know how it works: they get in there, there’s a scrum, you talk for five minutes and they might take 15 seconds, 20 seconds, they might take the words that they want and the sentences that they want. I’m not saying that they made up something -- they didn’t -- but a lot of times you can take what you want and use it in context of a story that you have in your mind or whatever.

This is, if not a dirty secret, certainly a pervasive truth about reporting in sports on the fly. By it's daily practice-then-scrum, game-then-scrum nature, sports reporting requires quick analysis with colorful reaction from emotional yet guarded players.

Many writers chasing many players for many quotes at the same time leads to the situations Laviolette describes. And there is no Freedom Of Information Act for sports clubs, so reporters are left to make assessments of personalities and decision-making on the fly about players and team staff who are inherently reluctant to share -- and in some case are powerless to truly verbalize -- what has happened in a game, in a moment, or with an "asset" they'd rather not expose.

We all do this to some degree. This site had a whale of a time generating the Rob Schremp Hockey nickname based on one quote from one interview way back that may or may not have reflected Schremp's true sense of where he fit as a hockey player.

Point is, remember always that the majority of quotes out there came from a scrum or at best a 15-minute interview with a player in which a reporter tries to faithfully capture the meaning and sentiment of a player but may fall short (especially if the reporter is angling for controversy, but that's another matter).

Beatwriters: Often Lovable Souls, Really

The best beatwriters do sober reporting and analysis while checking their agendas and taste for a narrative at the door, but it's human nature for any writer to let one's own agenda or bias color their analysis. (Related: It's not that I want to deify Frans Nielsen, it's that his supernatural acts leave me no rational alternative. Jeez. Duh.)

Of course, it's a two-way street: Players and staffs have their own agendas and may or may not tell reporters what they really think, so the job of the journalist is made complex (and fun) by trying to suss that out. The best ones are able to selectively choose quotes that really do best depict the story or true sentiment.

I'm not even saying Briere's comments on Bryzgalov were taken out of context -- I wasn't there, and don't care enough to dig around. But the overall point is worth remembering. To repeat Laviolette again: "They might take 15 seconds, 20 seconds, they might take the words that they want and the sentences that they want. I’m not saying that they made up something -- they didn’t -- but a lot of times you can take what you want and use it in context of a story that you have in your mind or whatever..."

It's the nature of the beast. When reading articles or tweets and forming your own judgments, consider all the contextual possibilities. The reporter may have it wrong. The player may deliberately give it wrong. Or somewhere in between.

(By the way, why is Michael Grabner a healthy scratch tonight...?)

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