(Editor’s note: This excerpt from How Postmodernism Explains Football, and Football Explains Postmodernism: The Billy Clyde Conundrum focuses on news conferences in which OU football coach Bob Stoops fields questions from sports media. In the above video clip, Stoops challenges the assertions of John Hoover from the Tulsa World after a game in 2012. Stoops’ behavior in this and other press conferences provides an entertaining window for understanding the central assertion of postmodernist theory — that we are generally better off seeking a multiplicity of narratives to explain life than pretending we have too many definitive answers. That is particularly true when it comes to our most prominent cultural institutions, such as commercial football — something Stoops instinctively seems to understand better than the sports media who seek to explain his team. This excerpt has been edited slightly for content and style.)
What Bud Wilkinson did in a weekly newsletter drafted, crafted and polished before being sent out via U.S. mail, Bob Stoops does facing microphones, cameras, a regional television audience and a roomful of sports reporters with their own agendas.
Stoops takes their questions, but then regularly reframes them on his own terms, advancing his own narratives and rejecting theirs — again, all in real-time and without PR assistance at the podium. It’s actually a rather impressive feat that he pulls off as part of his weekly schedule, a demonstration of intellectual depth and quickness that likely would surprise many who assume they know how coaches always think and talk.
Watch OU’s Baker Mayfield prance around gracefully
by William W. Savage III
The most consistent theme that emerges in the exchanges is the way the coach comes across most often as if he were something of a postmodernist sage, demonstrating — often less than patiently — the fallibility of one narrative after another proposed by individuals among the sports media. Quite often, he flatly rejects the reporters’ narratives and articulates why. Sometimes, he dismisses them with just a few words, as if that is clearly all that is needed to demonstrate their flaws. Occasionally he concedes at least part of an assertion to be valid but rejects the rest of it.
Stoops generally maintains a reserved demeanor throughout the conferences, but at times his tone and facial cues suggest various levels of annoyance and, at times, stronger aggravation, often at having to explain the obvious. But through it all, in articulating his response, Stoops most often seems to cut through each question to the premise upon which he sees it based.
In so frequently resisting and challenging the premise of questions put to him in the conferences, Stoops could be seen to have developed a postmodernist-grounded model for coaches in the hyper-mediated age. That is not to suggest Stoops has consciously used postmodernist theory in fashioning his style of interaction with media representatives. There is absolutely zero evidence for such an assertion. But in an age of cyber-galactic narrative profusion, it can hardly be surprising that a football coach would find it in his and his program’s interest to staunchly advance narratives that he finds to be more valid interpretations of relevant football realities. Clearly, the evidence does suggest Stoops is quite skilled at rejecting and countering narratives that fail to meet that standard.
Certainly, coaches at high-profile programs like OU’s are always at risk of having competing narratives undermine their success. Human behavior can be shaped as much or more by the power of narratives as by more objective realities. The careers of Oklahoma’s previous dynastic coaches, Wilkinson and Barry Switzer, can be argued to have suffered from forms of narrative dissonance in their later years. And such could potentially be the fate of Stoops as well. For after his 2014 team wound up with four losses in the regular season and also a bowl-game defeat, the narrative pattern that began to coalesce among Oklahoma media represented Stoops in some of the harshest terms of his 15-year career there.
Such comments are characteristic of the way sports media seem to insist that the players and coaches are to blame when contrived media narratives prove unreliable. That is, virtually every sports-media figure in the area who criticized OU football for the 2014 games it lost had predicted the team would win most or all of those games. Nevertheless, when participants in the game do prove not to be eternally superior — as all inevitably must — sports media virtually always represent it as a failure on the part of the participants rather than a failure of media to construct more reliable narratives.
But that is simply one fact of life in the hyper-mediated marketplace of narratives in which Bob Stoops and other big-time coaches in the commercial-football industry operate today. They must attempt not only to win as many games as possible but also advance the narratives they see as most valid. Sports media, by contrast, have a relatively easier job of only advancing narratives.