Posted by: tootingtrumpet | February 26, 2011

Media, Emotion and Sport – Mike Brearley

Starter for Ten - Which one of these three contributed most to winning The Ashes in 1981?

The Trumpet had intended to live tweet from this conference, but the only place in London (possibly the world) unable to connect to the internet is the conference room, since any such connections would interfere with the microphones. I have been out of academia for 9 months, but not much has changed!

The points below were written contemporaneously and capture aspects of the discussion, but not its totality. They are offered to readers for interest and, I hope, comment. Any errors in representing the views presented are mine and unintentional.

Mike Brearley’s paper – some points

  • The chair reads out a brief note on Mike Brearley’s professional life. “… he also played cricket for Cambridge University, Middlesex and England”. Just gotta love that “also”.
  • Mike Brearley is posh and speaks in exactly the accent one would expect, but, even to an ear as attuned as mine to the superiority of the English upper middle class, he is able to speak with authority but without arrogance. Many cricketers have attested to his ability to find a way to communicate with anyone, so I shouldn’t be surprised.
  • Public figures want to be accepted and praised, but media people want something else – truth and / or a good story, however. performers may not want the truth, nor the story. But performers may have the humility to learn from others’ identification of faults alongside the pride to enjoy success.
  • As media seek to build stars, pride is satisfied, but then the story turns and the media cuts down the star. Sports stars also face this difficulty, as they are found out by opponents.
  • Sports media can be less than scrupulous in bending facts to fit a pre-determined story. Dishonesty and trickery can be used by the media eg the current phone-tapping police investigation.
  • The sheer banality of the media’s questions – “What does it feel like to win The Ashes?” – does not invite a full answer (as one would give to a psychoanalyst), nor should the answer show contempt for the banality either – as the press have the last (sometimes the only) word.
  • The Media depend on the collaboration of the person being interviewed. In press conferences, Brearley knew more about what had happened on the field than the journalists and the press wanted to know exactly what had happened in order to do their jobs. “Hear questions as inquiries and not criticisms” – but also be aware of how to respond to the put-down element of a question.
  • It’s not possible nor prudent to tell the whole truth in public – for good reasons. Loyalties should not be broken – one should not lie, but one should not disclose everything, as it may impact on the morale of the individual or team.
  • Stars cannot be sure how their statements will be used or twisted. In the internet age, googling a person’s name will turn up all kinds of material. Stars should be canny about what they disclose to the media, anticipating how statements will be used. Being too clever can be problematic too, as frankness can gain goodwill from the media.
  • Interviews can help sports stars to become interviewers themselves, through learning from the journalist’s questions and research. Brearley gives the example of his learning from Dudley Doust, an American who had known little about cricket before working with Brearley and with whom he collaborated to produce two books.
  • Ex-players can become judgemental – there is a need to temper bluntness with the need to anticipate how the message will be received.
  • Some players seek publicity and its attendant prestige and money, but the relationship is precarious, wanting and resisting publicity. Sports stars want to be seen, and hate it at the same time. Good professionals in both fields (sport and media) share some values – both are balancing the need to disclose with the need to withold.
  • The media should question the outcomes of their work – Al Jazeera are debating the impact of their coverage of current upheavals in the Arab world.
  • Focus on the interviewer rather than the interviewee (a growing trend) obscures the subject of the interview.
  • There is an increasing requirement for the media to “report from the front”. Brearley thinks that such “authentication” is rubbish. Forcing sports stars into instant interviews makes interviewees appear stupid, because it’s not the right time.
  • Is the truth revealed by aggressive questioning, or by gaining the confidence of the interviewee? Brearley says that the interviewer’s silence can bring forward truths, as the space is filled by the interviewer.
  • Brearley thinks that Twitter is fine within limits and that authorities should not be fearful that teams are sometimes like families, with tensions and disagreements. (My question was, “Would he have been happy to have his team tweet during the Headingley Test of 1981?”)



  1. Thanks a ton for this post, Toots !

    A privilege to read about such under reported stuff.

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