Sunday, September 1, 2013

British Media...Let Andy Murray Poop in Peace


May we talk as friends here for a moment? I don't want to offend anyone and I hope everyone knows that I try to be the most open chap possible. But I seriously do not understand the British media and their fascination/obsession of all things Andy Murray. Now don't get me wrong. Andy Murray seems like a fine young mate and the type of athlete you would want as a role model in your country. I have no problem with the way the British people seem to adore Andy and I loved watching his win at Wimbledon and the way it seemed to unify the Brits in a manner not seen since Mr. Bean's first movie on the telly. But when you are around Murray and watch those in the British press paid to follow him, the scene gets....well it gets a tad bit creepy.

When most tennis players are through with their match, they come to the press room to meet the media and trudge through the monotony of answering their usual questions. The reality is that in a tennis match, absent some huge transcendent moment, there isn't a whole lot worth reciting afterwards. The media simply need one quote to put in there story, and thus asking "Hey Roger, how did you feel out there?" generally suffices. This has become the norm for questioning as there isn't really a way to dissect a particular moment in the match in a way that makes sense (for example a question that was stated, "On that one point in the third set where he hit the backhand, and then you hit a forehand and then he hit a slice volley and then you hit it back...how was that?" probably wouldn't be any more productive). The media questions thus are pretty mundane and often focus very little on the match itself and more on the player's "mindset" both before and after play. It is boring and often silly, but it seems to be a time-honored ritual, and for the best players, gives them a chance to flash a winning smile, an occasional quip and send everyone away happy.

The media stalks their prey 

 Not so with the British press and Andy. Instead of a trite series of questions about nothing, the British press seem to want to engulf every moment of Andy's life both on and off the court. After his three set win today over Florian Mayer, Murray trudged into the room like a teenager marching to detention. These affairs always seem like work for Andy and it doesn't take long to see why. The first question came from a British reporter (I assume he was British based on accent and teeth hygiene) who asked "Andy, did the bathroom break after the first set do the trick?"  Murray looked up slightly and somewhat ducked the question, saying something about the heat and trying to stay hydrated, but the reporter would not be deterred. He quickly followed, "but Andy, did you just need to go to the toilet or were you also struggling breathing?"  That sentence in and of itself is bizarre (is that an either/or....toilet or breathing?...it's almost like asking, "were you hungry or cold?") but not quite as odd as the sight of back to back toilet questions in a press session of the US Open. Murray looked at the reporter (with patience) and said, "I needed to go to the toilet."

Then a bit later, another British reporter (who sounded and looked like Margaret Thatcher circa 1982) asked if Murray was seeing a "mental conditioner" in Florida. I had never heard the phrase "mental conditioner," (although to be fair it is quite descriptive) but Andy seemed to get her point and said yes he was seeing a sports psychologist. The reporter pressed, "do you know her name?"  Murray said her name was Alexis and she followed, "what is her last name?" with a seriousness that suggested Alexis was going to get a phone call very soon questioning what she was doing to dear Andy. The Americans in the crowd giggled at the exchange, but Murray seemed to find it perfectly normal.

So I decided I had to act. In Cincinnati, I listened to reporters question Murray on why he was watching Challenger tournaments online in his spare time (his friends are playing) and what he was doing staying up so late (reading). I couldn't even fathom how they knew this much about what Murray was doing off the court and I was a bit surprised by such inquiry into his private time. Over the course of my tennis coverage, the amount of inquisition into all things Andy Murray seemed a bit much to me. So I raised my hand and asked Murray, "do you ever feel like you get asked questions other players don't, for instance about toilets and mental conditioners, and that your country's reporters are too into your personal life?"  It was a blatant shot across the room to my British comrades (who stared lasers through me), but it needed to be said. Why do they care about this nonsense?  Murray laughed (point for me by the way...I have now made Nadal and Murray laugh in the last three weeks...Roger you are next) and said, "people ask me about lots of things that don't matter, like if a feather blowing across the court in Australia is why I won a match. It is amusing." It looked as if Andy and I agreed...these people care way too much.

Don't get me wrong, I understand the explosion of all things Andy in Britain and the love/pride he brings the country. Let's be real...the amount of sports where Britain rules atop the heap is not high (unless you consider cricket a sport of consequence and I don't...if you wear knitted sweaters in the event, it is not a sport) and having some tennis glory at this point is clearly important. While producing pop stars like rabbits, athletes of the highest regard are rare and I appreciate the excitement of their exploits. Plus, I also understand the British tabloid media culture, where everything is covered in depth and every celebrity is dissected like a reality show Kardashian. But in this individual sport of tennis, dynamic obsession over one person would seem to be exhausting. When Roger, Rafa or Novak come into the room, they don't have an entire nation panting on what type of fruit they are eating or if they took Nyquil to help them fall asleep. But poor Andy can't even go take a leak without having the entire press corp speculating on its meaning. It has to be a difficult go and would seem to burn out most anyone in his postion. This is probably why his press conferences seem so laborious and lack the fun of the other greats. He is trying to hide as much of himself as possible to a press group that want to know every ounce of him.

So I say this to my British compatriots. Slow down...give Andy some space...let him enjoy his success. Otherwise you will burn him out, and he will spend even more time in Miami visiting Alexis and others, and less in your country where you people will not leave him alone. Maybe that is why your athletes all either leave the country or tend to flame out...you wear them down. Life is supposed to be fun and having a group of people dissecting your every move isn't quite the way a world class tennis star wants to live.  If you love a butterfly dear Brits, you can't trap it, but rather you have to let it fly. If it loves you back, it will return. Let Andy fly, and absent that, at least let him poop in peace. We will all be better for it.