Wednesday, January 19, 2011

2011 Australian Open, Roger Federer, Alexandra Willis, and monikers

Curator’s note: Tennis great Roger Federer questions reporter Alexandra Willis' use of monikers during the 2011 Australian Open.

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Roger Federer
Men's locker room
Australian Open

January 20, 2011

Alexandra Willis
Correspondents room
Australian Open


Dear Ms. Willis,

I'm pretty sure I beat Gilles Simon last night in the second round of the 2011 Australian Open.  But it was hard to tell after reading your recap from the Australian Open website.

In the span of nine paragraphs you referred to me 13 times by something other than my given name.  The synonyms included record-breaking Grand Slam champion, young father, world No. 2, former world No. 1, the Swiss, Swiss maestro, and French-speaking.

You didn't treat Simon any better.  Five times his real name got bypassed in favor of young father, Frenchman, French-speaking, and slender Frenchman.

These monikers made it impossible to imagine the action.  Instead of figuring out who won the fourth set, I got stuck deciphering which French-speaking man had “spindly legs.”

Sports writing has developed a monopoly on clichés.  The list of synonyms used in place of athletes’ names is endless.  We’ve got hoopsters and oarsmen and batsmen and hurlers and grinders and No. 1 draft picks and Baltimore natives and gridiron greats and gangly juniors and redheads and mothers-to-be and Duke graduates and hard-charging fullbacks and doubles specialists and switch-hitting rookies from Omaha.

Whatever happened to using real names?  I’ve never read of the Honolulu-born president or former University of Chicago Law professor signing bills into law.  If Barack Obama can be Barack Obama or President Obama or just Obama, can’t I be Roger Federer or just Federer, and not the French-speaking Swiss Maestro?

And certainly not world No. 2 or former world No. 1.  Please!

When elementary school teachers write reports cards, do they refer to their kids as lefty nose pickers and bright-eyed cherubs and budding academics?  Or do they just write Alice and Frank and Angela?

Southpaw may be the one exception here, as the synonym most commonly associated with a left-handed pitcher actually has an interesting backstory.  Not so for former Redskins coach (there are plenty of them) and Rookie of the Year and Russian-born and prodigious teen.  Such synonyms are the bane of sports writing.  You "writers" should have stopped at Southpaw and left good enough alone.

When it comes to match reports I just want to know who won and the basic arc of the competition.  The synonym dreck that now floods reports makes reading tedious.  It’s like you writers are purposefully trying to make it impossible to figure out who won and how.

So let's tighten things up please and keep it simple.  Proper names only, please.  God forbid I drop to No. 3 or worse in the world.

Sincerely,

Roger


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Alexandra Willis
Correspondents room
Australian Open

January 20, 2011

Roger Federer
Men's locker room
Australian Open

Dear Swiss Maestro,

Yikes!  I guess I’m not writing your autobiography. 

Cheers,
Right-handed reporter

P.S.  I'll be sure to include "multilingual" in my next article.


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1 comment:

  1. Their editors require a certain word count and they check for repeats. What else are they to do? You are lucky its words you can skim over. Most reports are now videos. 30 seconds to stream, 30 seconds of an AD for soft toilet paper THEN the talking starts.

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