There’s a clip making the rounds that shows part of Deshaun Watson’s press conference following the Texans’ loss to the Panthers on Sunday, and it’s fantastic:
Watson wasn’t trying to own The Athletic’s Aaron Reiss for asking him about “the coverage they were playing,” as at least one corner of the Twitterverse has suggested. Such a reaction implies that the question was dumb, and that the Texans quarterback served up a necessary corrective in response. That’s not what happened here. A reporter asked a thoughtful question, and Watson obliged him by offering up a thoughtful reply.
Press conferences are necessary evils for access reporters. They’re performative, which means they tend to get reduced to interrogations, rather than what they are: opportunities for reporters to attempt to elicit information from their subjects—attempt being the operative word here. More often than not, pressers are an opportunity for those subjects to fulfill their access obligations without actually providing any information, either through obfuscation or outright lying. (It’s also true that reporters can get carried away with being performative during pressers. But that, too, isn’t what happened here.)
A reporter will get the most out of his or her subject by having a read on that subject—a way to phrase the question, a certain tone to use when asking that question, knowing when to follow up versus knowing when to give up, etc. When Rex Ryan coached the Jets and would refuse to give a straight answer, reporters knew to keep poking him, because eventually he might. This is not a strategy that’s going to work on Bill Belichick, however.
In some instances, just flat-out playing dumb can really get someone to open up. A smart editor once advised me to approach certain interview settings by thinking, Talk to me like I’m two years old—an approach that’s absolutely worked more often than not. Yes, there are dumb questions, but most of the time, questions are being asked a certain way to satisfy the specific purpose of getting a response. This is exactly what Reiss was hoping to get at with his question:
Watson easily could have coughed up some kind of canned reply about having to make plays next time or needing to look at the film later, and no one would have thought about this exchange again. Instead, he eagerly provided the world with a detailed breakdown of what he saw, and how he reacted to what he saw, and why things didn’t work out. He managed to cover this ground completely in 66 seconds, and the reporter who asked it got both an informative answer and an outstanding sound bite for the rest of us to chew over. It was perfect.