Rhetoricians Are Everywhere: Sports Radio Proves It
In Part One of “Don’t Talk Like A Sausage,” we tried to spell out what it means to talk like a sausage, theorized why people do it, and began trying to calculate the costs for those who do. We also noted that the ability to hear gobbledygook is actually quite widespread, despite the vast majority of language-scolding coming from a small group of hobbyists.
In this installment, I want to use (of all things) Sports Radio to provide a glimpse into just how pervasive sensitive listening has become. While we’re at it, we’ll look to sports in general for examples of just how important sausage-less speech can be.
Alert Ears Are Everywhere
Before we dive into the turbid waters of sports-media, I want to point out that there are ALWAYS more “experts” listening than most people realize. This is especially true of people in positions of public influence — like members of “the media.” Remember them?
Self-styled language bastards are almost certainly all over the joint in any marketing or entertainment focused environment. We’re on the news and on the analysis of the news, on Facebook and Twitter and Linked In and yes… we’re even on flipping Sports Radio.
I listen to way too much of it, but I still know what I’m hearing. A good 70% of modern-day Sports Radio is grad-level textual analysis of words uttered by jocks, coaches, and owners. Chicago’s Dan Bernstein typifies the trend.
An honors grad from Duke University, Bernstein’s specialty is picking apart press conferences and locker-room mumblings with surgical precision. His colleagues all used to make a big show of Bernstein being an over-intellectualizing-freak — but now his kind of analysis has become the meat and potatoes for every show on the station. I guess you can only say so much about the damn plays.
Actually, Everybody’s Listening…and Closer Than You’d Think
Even on Sports Radio, subtle rhetorical analysis is not limited to the guys on the air. It’s the callers too — even the ones who can barely speak themselves. Between the word choices of losing jocks and managers, and batting orders…you’re up to about 95% of the programming day.
Sports radio is a perfect example of Stanley Fish’s contention that language encloses all human experience. If you haven’t read Fish, do give him a try. What he has to say about language should be taught in every business class. I always recommend “There’s No Such Thing As Free Speech, And It’s A Good Thing Too.” …Seriously, give it a look.
The major franchises all seem to understand the need for linguistic talent, as coaches and general managers are increasingly hired for their PR skills. After all, major league sports franchises are media products — especially if you look at them through the balance sheet.
And you won’t find a better poster-boy for this whole trend than Theo Epstein, the Savior General Manager for the Cubs. Theo’s precision with language is clearly a big part of his brand. And by extension, it’s now part of The Cubs’ brand as well. I may have missed a “hone in on” during one of these pennant races— but I’ve personally never heard him say it. Sports has its own superset of clichés and he does his best to avoid those too.
Cub fans will always love Theo because of that World Series victory, but he’s still earning acclaim now, during much-less magical seasons, because he’s so damned articulate. Largely because of that quality, he’s also perceived as honest, and smart. The ultimate accolade? Even White Sox fans like the guy. Take it from me: we don’t even like ourselves.
Feel The Benefit
Theo illuminates all the benefits of talking sausage-less-ly. Watch the whole press-conference linked above, and you’ll see an ideal model for rhetorical performance. When Theo speaks, he takes the time to form his thoughts, and as he goes on, he remembers what he says. In every meaningful way, he is present, and his presence has the effect of placing listeners “in the moment” as well. The phrase “hanging on every word” has its origins with the kind of effect his speech creates. For listeners, Theo’s zero-sausage style creates a feeling of intimacy and connection. But crucially, the connection point is with his words. You’re actually invited to share his perspective, rather than being overwhelmed by his identity and authority. Because of this nuance, you’re also implicitly invited to disagree. That’s the key the waffles and sausage crowd always seems to miss.
And ultimately, I think that’s why it’s worth it to go back and review our Ten Steps To Sausage-less Speaking. I promise if you take them, you’ll be ten steps closer to finding your inner-Theo.