Bryan Curtis, writing in Slate last week about the sports writing cliche of people saying and doing "all the right things":
Most sportswriting clichés can be ignored. The ones worth prodding are the phrases that reflect the anxieties of the profession. So it goes here. When a sportswriter records an athlete “saying all the right things,” he is saluting the athlete for lying to him. ...
At its most defensible, ATRT is a meta shorthand for “the player said exactly what you’d expect him to say.” Or: “There’s a story there, but I couldn’t get it.”
In most cases, I’d argue, the pap should just be ignored. After the November Paris terror attacks, a Boston Globe editorial intoned, “World leaders said all the right things.” It would only be news if they hadn’t.
At its worst, ATRT signals that a sportswriter is thinking like a PR guy. We don’t want illuminating awkwardness but unilluminating tranquility. Thus, a player who reveals himself to us (or, worse, reveals himself to another media outlet) is immediately suspect. Didn’t he know the talking points?
To me, this isn't so much an example of lazy reporters poor access or sports journalists accepting lying from players and coaches. To me, it's a reflection of The Sport Ethic.
It's been a while, so a refresher is in order. The Sport Ethic is a concept from sociologists Robert Hughes and Jay Coakley to explain the attitudes and actions of elite athletes. The Sport Ethic has four norms: dedication to the game above everything else; striving for distinction (aka winning); accepting the risks and playing through pain; and accepting no obstacles in the pursuit of success. Inherent in this is the idea of playing the game "the right way" and "for the right reasons."
One of my working hypotheses is that sports journalism reflects and propagates The Sport Ethic through the industry's reliance on coaches and players as sources. If players and coaches have internalized The Sport Ethic, it's logical they will espouse those beliefs in interviews with the media, and the media (based on those interviews) will in turn espouse The Sport Ethic.
I think that's what's happening when reporters write that an athlete has "said all the right things." It's not so much about coaches and athletes lying as it is living up to the expected norms and values of their field. It's less laziness and duplicity by sports journalists and more reflecting the ethic that their sources have internalized and live by. As long as access to players and coaches remains an important part of sports journalism (which gets at the heart of Curtis' larger point), The Sport Ethic will continue to be expressed in sports media.
Live by your sources, and you live by their worldview.