PostHeaderIcon “Clown Questions” and Expectations

This past week, baseball phenom Bryce Harper briefly topped twitter’s trending topics when he characterized a reporter’s question as foolish. The Toronto-based reporter had asked Harper (who, in case you don’t know, is a 19-year-old LDS player in his rookie year) if he was going to take advantage of Canada’s more liberal drinking laws (which allow drinking at 19 instead of 21) to celebrate his home run during the game, and if so, what brand of beer he would drink.

Harper replied, “I’m not answering that. That’s a clown question, bro.”

His response probably wasn’t as rude in a testosterone-filled post-game press conference room as it might seem on paper. Nor was it quite original with Bryce—his brother Bryan reveals that the phrase originates with a non-Mormon Las Vegas friend, Donn Roach, who plays in the Padre’s system.

But, Bryce’s attitude implies what is, I think, an important question: given this latest mormon moment (and given Harper’s well-publicized LDS beliefs) shouldn’t reporters and the well-informed be expected to know some basics about Mormon beliefs? And if so, what minimums should they be expected to know?

Harpers response basically suggests that he believes the reporter should have known already that he is LDS and that LDS Church members don’t drink alcohol. I have the impression that the fact that Harper is LDS is fairly well known — but I think I could be biased about that. But, I’m even more certain that the fact that Mormons don’t drink alcohol should be well known among reporters.

I don’t want to criticize any reporter in particular (I don’t know what this reporter knew or should have known about Harper or about Mormons), but I do think that some general expectation of what reporters know is reasonable. Its really necessary in order to communicate with others and to understand them that you know the basics of their beliefs and who they are.

What do yo think? Is that reasonable? Is Harper right? Was it a “clown question?”

27 Responses to ““Clown Questions” and Expectations”

  • dangermom says:

    Perhaps he assumed that he was being asked the question *because* he was Mormon. I like the ‘clown question’ phrase!

  • kent says:

    FWIW, I checked the OED, which doesn’t include any entry for “clown” as an adjective — so this is a new use of the word.

  • Todd says:

    I think it could be described as a “clown question” even if the reporter did not know either (a) that the player was mormon, or (b) that drinking is prohibited in mormon doctrine.

  • Adam G. says:

    Answers are only rude to the extent they aren’t really funny.
    That answer as really funny.
    It was not rude.

  • Anon says:

    Must be a Nevada LDS thing. Harry Reid to Roll Call reporter Steven Dennis, after being asked a question about immigration: “I don’t want to answer that question – that’s a clown question, bro.”

  • kent says:

    Nevada, perhaps, not LDS though. Bryce’s brother Bryan reports (in the link I made above) that this use of the word “clown” comes from a non-Mormon fellow baseball player, Donn Roach.

    I suspect, however, that Reid doesn’t normally use this term. Its more likely that he has good PR staff who pay attention to what is popular at the moment. The fact that Harper is from Nevada probably led the staff to pay more attention than they might have, however.

    Regardless, it was an easy way for Reid to get a few laughs and perhaps score some points in the ongoing verbal political battle in Washington.

  • I think reporters should know about the WoW and also that the real name of the church is not “Church of Latter-day Saints,” like Katie Couric said in her interview of the up-and-coming Mormon high school basketball player.

  • mlbindc says:

    Re: Michelle Glauser. That’s a clown comment sis!

  • chris says:

    He is a pro baseball player and they asked a cheeseball question about drinking. I don’t think “clown” has to do with LDS anymore ethane cheese. But rather unserious and not worthy of a response. If it was unknown that he is LDS, the question is so frivolous that it’s not worth giving energy to. You have limited PR space to actually communicate a message and wasting your opportunity on what bear you drink or what your favorite color does not really inform much – hense an unserious question like a clown.
    It could also be just as likely he was being goaded to see I’d he was either faithful and would reply with standard “Mormons can’t drink” or if he would open up room for a story about I’m living in opposition to Mormonism.

    • kent says:

      I think the “goaded” possibility is really interesting, and if it is true and Harper knew it, then this was a deft PR move that we don’t often see from baseball players.

      Too often, religion is left out of public life because of the downsides. From a PR perspective, mentioning your religion when it isn’t relevant to what you do gives you no advantage. It unlikely that you will gain new fans from your religion (especially if you are from a minority religion like Mormonism), while it is more likely that you will lose fans from those prejudiced against your religion or against religion in general.

      If “clown” is Harper’s way of responding to an unfair, loaded question, then its really quite brilliant, IMO.

  • chris says:

    Anymore than…

  • Bill says:

    Good for Bryce Harper. It was a clown question, whether or not any religious angle was meant or understood. Of course, the ultimate clown questioner is Jim Gray, who berated Pete Rose, and who hounded Dennis Rodman about his uneducated comments regarding Mormons until Rodman walked away. But these clown questions are asked every other day by the sports media – of course, now with so many athletes on twitter, they can post their own clown comments, unmediated.

    On Saturday, Harper achieved the rare platinum sombero, or Olympic Rings, striking out five times in a game, going 0-7. You may remember earlier in the year that Chris Davis, the DH of the Orioles, earned the same distinction, but in an even crazier twist, he pitched several innings in relief after the bullpen had been exhausted and got the W despite going 0-8.

  • chanson says:

    I think dangermom is probably right.

    Note that even if the reporter knew that the player was LDS and that the CoJCoL-dS prohibits drinking, that doesn’t automatically imply that the player agrees with or follows the particular prohibition. Think of asking a Catholic couple whether they use contraceptives or asking a Mormon whether they eat meat only in winter and times of famine — would those be clown questions?

    It’s possible that the reporter was genuinely curious about how likely an LDS athlete is to follow this particular rule.

  • Jettboy says:

    Since the question came from a reporter, then it automatically was a clown question as reporters are know nothing clowns by nature. If you want truth and dignity then the last thing you should do is talk to a reporter.

    • kent says:

      Wow, that’s harsh, Jettboy.

      I know some reporters and think that the average reporter is not nearly as incompetent as you imply.

      Part of what you may see is the tendency to focus on a particular area to the exclusion of others. I think this is believable in the case of sports reporters, who sometimes seem clueless about anything outside of sports and the sports mentality.

      And even when they know about other things, they often feel like its none of their business; I’m quite sure that before free agency came along many reporters felt like it was their job to report on what happened on the field, not on what happened off the field.

      Of course, the best reporters are well-informed about society in general, not just their narrow area of focus. If that is the case with the reporter in Toronto, then he deserves to feel embarrassed by his question.

  • Bill says:

    Harry Reid’s appropriation of the phrase just underlies what Jettboy is hinting at. The political press is filled with even more clowns than the sports press, and the percentage of clown politicians surely equals that of clown athletes.

    The irony is that our supposed serious institutions have become so degraded and the so-called meritocratic elite so self-absorbed that it is in their interest to distract rather than reveal, all in the service of their corporate masters. And like in earlier times, when the fool was the only one who could criticize his king, today’s clowns and comedians have become one of the few honest sources of information and of telling things the way they are.

    • kent says:

      I dunno, Bill. When I listened to Reid’s comments that included the “clown question” reference, he didn’t seem to be distracting the audience from anything — he went on to make his point, and even respond to what he was calling a “clown question.”

      If Reid’s use of the phrase is somehow a distraction, then Mike Judge’s use of Harper as an example in the Daily Call has to be worse — a misappropriation of a public image for ideological purposes that is unfortunately common on all sides of the political spectrum.

      But, I do tend to agree that much of the rhetoric in politics is more about distraction and about hammering a phrase into the minds of the public than on any real dialogue about how to solve problems.

      • Bill says:

        I guess I wasn’t very clear. I wasn’t trying to criticize Reid, at least in this case. I was standing in solidarity with him and with Harper, against all the clowns. If he has ever himself been a clown on other occasions, he is far from the worst offender.

  • Anon says:

    Speaking of politicos’ appropriating Harper’s phrase–or the image of Harper himself–Charles P. Pierce of Esquire responds to the article “Bryce Harper, Conservative Hero” by Mark Judge of the Daily Caller thus:

    “I tune in when I know Bryce Harper’s playing because his talent is something that even a baseball agnostic like myself can enjoy watching. Can’t he just do that without being made to stand for something, at least for one season? To paraphrase a currently popular phrase: clown analysis, bro. Clown analysis.”

    • kent says:

      Anon, thanks for this link. Judge’s stretched use of Harper’s image in the service of his ideology is silly and really portrays an ignorance of baseball — of which his professional baseball playing grandfather (who he mentions in his article) would be quite ashamed.

  • Anon says:

    Harper’s now filed for a trademark on the phrase–which it’s become almost de rigueur to end any sports article about the rookie ball player with, e/g:

    “In the world of trading cards, is there anybody more popular than Bryce Harper. Actually, that’s a clown question bro.”—Chris Maathuis, “Bryce Harper Rookie Card Fetching Big Dollars,” KLAS-TV News, Las Vegas

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