The other day I found myself asking a fellow media member, “Do you have an Otter of the Zoom so I can tweet some quotes?”
I can only imagine what 1979 me, just starting out in the sportswriting business with what can only be called rudimentary technology at my disposal, would have made of that sentence. Shoot, even 2019 me would have been thoroughly confused.
But among the many distinctions of 2020, most of them sad and regrettable and some just the necessary byproduct of life in a pandemic, is this: It is the Year of Zoom.
And that doesn’t just hold true for business and education. It has become the nearly exclusive method for conducting interviews and other interactions in the world of sports, and will continue to be for the foreseeable future.
That really hit home Wednesday, when through a fluke of scheduling and confluence of events, the Seattle sports scene offered a veritable Zoom marathon. Many of our prominent coaches and managers, both college and professional, had their stint on the podium in a sunup to sundown cornucopia of wit and wisdom.
Well, there were occasional flashes of wit and a modicum of wisdom. There was also the usual dose of obfuscation and question-ducking. But mostly it was what interviews are, no matter what the form, live or virtual: good-faith efforts to answer questions designed to shed light on the inner workings of teams that mean a whole lot to a lot of people.
As an exercise in — I’m not sure what, exactly, but I suppose it was some sort of sociological experiment, or a personal test of endurance — I decided to sit through as many Zoom sessions as I could Wednesday.
It started with Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer and general manager Garth Lagerwey giving their annual summation of the season and a look at what lies ahead. That segued directly into University of Washington football coach Jimmy Lake’s wrap-up of national signing day. After a quick lunch break, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll held his weekly Wednesday news conference from the Virginia Mason Athletic Center in Renton. And when that ended, it was just about time for Mariners manager Scott Servais to hold court on his ballclub’s prospects, ostensibly as part of MLB’s winter meetings, even though those aren’t being held this year. And this Seattle State of the Union was capped later in the evening by UW men’s basketball coach Mike Hopkins’ somber recap of a damaging loss to Montana.
Those were the high points. I also jumped on a Zoom session in the morning with the newest Mariner free-agent signee, reliever Keynan Middleton. And because of an overlap, I had to skip the weekly Zoom session with Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner, and because of a family matter I had to attend to I missed the Zoom with Seahawks defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr.
In olden times — which is anything before March 2020 — it would have been physically impossible to be present for all of the two hours, 36 minutes and 11 seconds of Q&A I heard, spread out over about 11 hours of real time. The transportation from one venue to another would have been prohibitive, considering the proximity of various conferences and the density of Seattle-area traffic.
But that’s a beauty of Zoom. You can sit in your office, your living room or at your kitchen table and transport yourself across the city, country or world. You are limited only by brain fatigue and the daunting task of transcribing all those miles of copy. That’s where “Otter” comes in. It’s a service that takes your Zoom recordings and transcribes them through voice-recognition technology. It’s not perfect — there are some hilarious misinterpretations — but it’s better than the alternative: Hours upon hours of having to painstakingly transcribe recorded audio.
There’s no question that the isolation necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed the way the media conducts their business. The days of roaming the locker room in pursuit of tidbits of news, or sitting down in person with a player for an in-depth feature story, are on hold. It’s nearly impossible to develop a personal relationship when the only interactions are on a computer screen with sometimes dozens of colleagues. In the end, that affects the depth and tenor of coverage, though every reporter I know has done a miraculous job of working within the COVID-19-related barriers to convey as much information as possible.
Mind you, I’m not complaining or whining. That’s important. Anyone can see this is the way it has to be right now. The tightly packed scrums of reporters surrounding athletes is so far beyond the pale in the current environment that it makes you shudder to even think of it. I suspect that even when the pandemic has lifted, the reporter/athlete dynamic in the locker room/clubhouse will be permanently transformed.
For now, I’m trying to soak up as much knowledge as I can, when I can. And Wednesday was a giant sponge of a day.
Schmetzer lamented the bitterly disappointing end of the Sounders’ season in the MLS Cup final. “You’re hoping for a great outcome, and it falls painfully flat,” he said. “And that stings, that last step. It’s really frustrating for me.”
The perpetually upbeat Lake made it seem as if the Huskies’ recruiting class was the one to take them to the national championship. The perpetually patient Carroll dutifully answered every question, even the ones that weren’t formulated as questions. It was a far cry from one of the first Seahawks news conferences I attended, when then-coach Jack Patera, after a tough loss, waited seven seconds for a question that never came and stormed out of the room. It’s impossible to imagine Carroll ever doing that.
Servais painted a picture of the Mariners that was simultaneously upbeat and realistic. He raved about individual players but when assessing the team’s prospects as a whole was cautiously optimistic. Or maybe optimistically cautious. Either way, it wasn’t exactly a manifestation of pennant fever.
The final Zoom of the day featured a forlorn Hopkins trying, and failing, to make sense of the Huskies’ loss to Montana, a Big Sky school that came in with just one victory, over the powerhouse that is Yellowstone Christian College.
“I just felt it looked like we were in mud,” Hopkins lamented. “Sometimes you look at the eyes and you’re like, ‘Wow, where is it?’ In this game, you’ve got to come out and play like it’s your last game, and we didn’t do that. That’s what was frustrating most for me.”
It was a somber end to an illuminating exercise. It was finally time to go to sleep — or Otter those Zooms.