You have probably heard it said there is no such thing as a dumb question.
But that is not true.
Even people whose business it is to ask questions often let out a real clunker or two. Here are just a couple of examples.
From time to time a good friend of mine who happens to be a University of Kentucky basketball fan sends me links to articles about the Wildcats he comes across seeking my comment. He knows that I covered the ’Cats for a couple of years during my stay with the Courier-Journal in Louisville back in the 1970s.
One of his recent submissions was an account of the Derby Classic All-Star basketball game that featured a high school prospect who had signed a letter-of-intent to play for UK rival Louisville.
In the story, the writer noted that the all-star game gave the reporters the opportunity to ask the Louisville signee if he wanted to beat Kentucky next season. Turns out, to no one’s surprise, he did.
Now in the writer’s defense, I know that some times a reporter has to ask an obvious question on occasion to get the right quote from the person being interviewed. The constant “how do you feel?” following a big win or loss can wear you out.
Frankly, though, in this case I don’t see what possible point the questioner was trying to make. Did he really expect a prospective Louisville player to say he didn’t want to beat Kentucky? If a player admitted something like that, I would say that coach Rick Pitino would have yanked the kid’s scholarship and been justified in doing so.
So this ranks pretty high on any list of dumb questions from reporters.
But I wouldn’t put it No. 1 because it’s possible that the question wasn’t actually asked the way the writer wrote it in his account. Maybe the question went more along the lines of did playing in the game in Louisville give him a feel for the rivalry and make him want to beat Kentucky even more, or something similar to that. Lame, yes, but not high on the “dumb” list.
I’d have to say the dumbest question a sports writer ever asked in an interview was posed by a friend of mine who was working in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, some years back. At that time, the Hattiesburg Country Club held an “unofficial” PGA Tour event the same weekend of the Masters.
For those golfers who didn’t qualify for an invitation to the Masters, the Magnolia Class offered eager up-and-comers the opportunity to gain more experience and veterans on the downside of their careers the chance for an easier pay day in the somewhat limited field.
For example, Payne Stewart, who would later add PGA and U.S. Open championships to his record before his death in a plane crash in 1999, got his first win there in 1982. He was an up-and-comer.
Another year, Orville Moody was in the field. Moody, who had won the 1969 U.S. Open, was in the other group, definitely on the down side of his career by then by the time of his appearance.
Still, my friend (who shall remain nameless to protect the guilty) figured correctly that Moody would be a good subject for a story for the local Hattiesburg readers.
Naturally, Moody’s 1969 Open win came up during his interview.
That’s when, during a lull in the conversation, my friend popped the question:
“Was that your biggest win?”
You have to understand one thing. Not only was this Moody’s only major title in his golfing career, which began after he spent 14 years in the Army, it was his only victory period on the PGA Tour. He finished second five other times and won some tournaments in Asia, but that U.S. Open was his only win on the regular Tour.
So, yeah, it was his biggest win all right!
I don’t remember what my friend said Moody’s answer was (“Hell, yes” would be my guess), but my friend said he couldn’t believe what he had just asked and immediately looked for a hole to crawl into.
So, yeah, there are such things as dumb questions.
As a footnote, Moody did have some success after joining the Seniors Tour after he turned 50, winning 11 events that included the U.S. Seniors Open. He died in August 2008 at the age of 74.