I enjoy it when emotion comes spilling out of athletes. It can be incredible to watch great athletes work their tails off, reach success and then, finally, allow themselves to be overcome with emotion. Whether it is Michael Jordan cradling the trophy after his first NBA Championship or Tiger Woods winning the British Open just a month after his father’s passing, these moments resonate with sports fans. They show the human side of these tremendous athletes who, at times, can seem otherworldly.
As great as these moments can be, NBC’s post-race interview with Bode Miller shows that, sometimes, attempts to chronicle the emotions of athletes can go painfully wrong.
Bode Miller is the best-known and most accomplished male skier of his generation. The Olympics in Sochi mark his fourth time representing the U.S. at the games, and he has won more medals at the Winter Olympics than any other U.S. skier. On Sunday, Miller won the bronze in the Super-G, his sixth Olympic medal.
This medal was a particularly special achievement for Miller. Since he is now 36 years old, the Sochi games are likely to be his last Olympics. Additionally, Miller lost his brother last May. These two factors coupled together made for an incredibly emotional post-race interview. However, Christin Cooper, who conducted the interview, and NBC, pushed too hard and handled that flood of emotion poorly.
Cooper started the interview like a pro. She asked about Bode’s performance at the Olympics and how the Sochi games are different from his past experiences at the games. It was Bode who brought up the passing of his brother, and as he did, the floodgates start to open.
Cooper saw this and started her prodding. “Bode, you’re showing so much emotion; what’s going through your mind?” she asked. Miller did not mention his brother at first, but Cooper quickly brought him right back to it. She asked if the performance was for his brother, and that was when Miller was forced to wipe away a tear. He struggled to answer the question, but that did not stop Cooper. She asked another question about his brother and Miller puts his head in his hands.
Cooper comes across as obnoxious in this interview. Bringing up Miller’s brother was the right thing to do, and Cooper started down that path well. However, she simply crossed a line. She did not allow herself to fade into the background the way a good journalist should. When Miller put his head down, Cooper strangely reaches out to put a hand on his shoulder, breaking through the journalistic veil entirely.
Parts of Cooper’s interview indeed pushed too far, but far more troubling was what NBC did immediately after. The cameras stay glued to Miller, watching him cry into his hands. There are almost 15 seconds of silence as Miller cries before Dan Hicks’ voice returns. That should have been all. NBC had captured the post-competition emotion and shown that human side of a terrific Olympic athlete, the network did a good job.
There is one problem: NBC refused to cut away from Miller. They continue to follow him and let Hicks unnecessarily talk over the image of him in the snow for another 30 seconds. This part I do not understand.
There was no need to keep the camera on Miller. Watching him get up, only to kneel back down again a few steps later was neither a fun nor a warming moment. It was strange and painful to watch. NBC had spent time making Miller’s last Olympics an emotional story line and did well to capture the way a competitor feels after winning. Keeping the cameras rolling while Miller became surrounded by coaches was too much.
Things would certainly be different if the Olympics, like many other major sporting events, were live. However, these Olympics are in Russia, and NBC works, often admirably, to produce the best primetime coverage. The post-race interview was taped. NBC could have cut away earlier. They could have even sent the camera over to the race’s gold medal winner, Kjetil Jansrud. That they did not is enough to show that NBC went too far.
Max Prinz, FCRH ’15, is a communication and media studies major from New Rochelle, N.Y.