The Rise of the Professional-Athlete Podcast

Even podcasting’s Most ardent evangelizers would have to acknowledge that many podcasts are oriented around a very basic premise: “Here are some people talking.” The format’s simplicity makes it easy for almost any known figure to get involved. The actresses Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey, for example, host “Office Ladies,” in which they rewatch and comment on “The Office,” the NBC comedy in which they starred. One of the most successful podcasts ever, “WTF With Marc Maron,” has the host inviting other comedians to discuss their work and their histories in interviews whose sincerity and breadth can resemble therapy sessions. In each show, and others like them, part of the appeal is simply to hear from familiar voices, but the real attraction is how they demystify what these people do, allowing talented figures to break down their talent-utilization processes. This is the premise of so many athlete-run podcasts: Draymond’s, or “The Old Man and the Three” (in which former NBA players JJ Redick and Tommy Alter trade stories and discuss the modern league), or “All the Smoke” (the former NBA journeymen Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson trade stories and discuss the modern league), or “I Am Athlete” (the former NFL receivers Brandon Marshall and Chad Johnson trade stories and discuss the modern league).

Sports, for them, is mostly a fun job they have, or used to have.

But the demystification process can, at times, be too thorough. I, and many others, watch sports in large part to be awed: Sometimes it seems truly unbelievable that someone like Steph Curry can do what he does, and the experience of witnessing it in real time, the act of creation right in front of you , provides inexplicable joy. Surprisingly, though, it turns out to be deeply enervating to hear these athletes talk about it. Sports, for them, is mostly a fun job they have, or used to have; they tend to have thoughts about every aspect of it besides the magic of the game itself.

I wonder what it’s like for Green to know, a split second before throwing a pass, where Curry will materialize, or what it’s like to mentally calculate how quickly to backpedal to the rim to reject an incoming dunk. But on these podcasts, we mostly get the usual punditry: “Steph and Klay shot well,” “Boston’s a very physical team.” Occasionally the hosts reveal their emotions, but never for long. Over time, they often ease into a strange blend of opacity and transparency: The tone suggests we’re hearing something uniquely honest, but the content is indistinguishable from what an educated outsider might guess. Much of the players’ perspective, you begin to realize, is rooted in being themselves. They know their co-workers and what happens in locker rooms and what the game looks like up close; we don’t The more they offer their perspective, the clearer they make it that we can never totally understand their experience. Listening to them begins to feel like eavesdropping on a stockbroker walking his client through a series of trades — both mundane and exclusive.

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