IT USED TO be that when athletes got injured, they disappeared from our lives. We didn’t hear or even think about them for months, as they endured the drudgery of rehab or the indignities of the physio’s table, while plotting their return to the spotlight. It seems nobody bothered to tell Nick Kyrgios that, while out with an injury, he’s supposed to be on exile from public life. Or more likely, he didn’t listen. Tennis’ most polarising, at times puzzling, frequently frustrating but increasingly likeable star has always danced to the beat of his own drum/Beats headphones. Despite not having lifted a racquet in tournament play in months, right now, Kyrgios seems to be everywhere.
First there was the news that he’d be opening an OnlyFans account to share “tennis balls… tips, tricks and behind the scenes… gaming, tattoos, my intimate side—it’s all on the table and I’ll be bringing fans along for the ride!”
Then last week he announced that he was launching a podcast, Good Trouble with Nick Kyrgios. He’s also been jumping in the commentary box at the Australian Open, where his enthusiasm for a game he insists he hates, has made for some genuinely entertaining and often incisive analysis as he transports viewers into players’ shoes (and heads), in a way traditional broadcasters can’t. The commentary gigs have offered a taste of what Kyrgios might be like behind the mic on his own podcast—we did get a sneak peak with a special edition of Good Trouble with Novak Djokovic last week—and from what we’ve heard so far, it sounds promising.
Further clues to Kyrgios’ prowess behind the mic can be gleaned from his recent appearance on
What Now with Trevor Noah, where his vulnerability, honesty and commitment to ‘saying it how it is’, made for an absorbing listen. He once again made plain his contempt for the tennis establishment and the game itself, described Australia as “pretty racist” and talked candidly about his struggle to handle the spotlight thrust upon him when he burst onto the scene as a prodigiously talented, singlet-wearing teenager, whose perceived arrogance, aloofness and disregard for the etiquette and tradition of a staid sport rankled many.
His new podcast, which is being made in conjunction with fellow tennis player Naomi Osaka’s media company Hana Kuma, launches on January 24. It looks like a slick production and the roster of guests, including Gordon Ramsay, Jay Shetty, Mike Tyson, Jemele Hill, Frances Tiafoe, Rainn Wilson, Gary Vaynerchuk and Osaka herself, is impressive. Given the iconoclastic nature of both Kyrgios and some of his guests, there will likely be a focus on truth-telling, vulnerability and authenticity. You could see it becoming a hit.
Kyrgios isn’t the first athlete to side-step the traditional media apparatus to jump behind a podcast mic. Player pods have become a big deal—and frequent source of news for traditional media—in the NBA, led by Golden State Warriors’ firebrand Draymond Green, who likes to jump behind the mic to break down games soon after the final buzzer, on The Draymond Green Show. Green, a similarly charismatic though far more combustible figure than Kyrgios, seems to shrink when not in the spotlight and his podcast allowed him to stay connected to fans during his recent suspension for punching Phoenix Suns’ centre Jusuf Nurkić. Former players, such as Gilbert Arenas and Kevin Garnett, also have their own pods, which tend to generate league-wide news, particularly if a guest voices an opinion on the ongoing NBA GOAT debate.
For athletes, the appeal of having your own pod is easy to see. After a lifetime having mics thrust in your face, quotes taken out of context and seeing your words and brand harnessed by mainstream media outlets for their own agendas (yes I’m doing that right now!), the ability to wrest back control must be intensely gratifying.
To then see your content become a source of news for mainstream media is probably a particularly sweet irony to savour—Kyrgios expressed delight on Noah’s podcast at the fact that traditional media outlets were forced to subscribe to his OnlyFans account, thus turning the tables on hacks and columnists. He’ll likely get similar satisfaction when the same thing occurs with Good Trouble and given podcasts are a particularly incestuous medium in which guests do spots on each other’s shows and cross-promote, Kyrgios will likely never struggle for news-worthy talent—you can probably expect Noah to show up on a future season.
Of course, not every athlete has a pod in them. I have cringe-listened to my childhood hero Siv Viv Richards’ efforts in the commentary box during guest stints in Big Bash matches and despite having his poster on my bedroom wall for over a decade-and-a-half, you probably couldn’t pay me to listen to him front up his own pod.
But some athletes do have ‘it’. And some, like Kyrgios, whose brand is best described as no-fucks-given authenticity, the intimacy of the podcast medium is a match made in heaven. It’s also a great brand builder and, as we know, branching into modern media is a smart way to shore up your retirement—it certainly beats a hagiographic ghost written memoir. Indeed, with his extended injury run of late—the 28-year-old only played one official match in 2023—Kyrgios is obviously pivoting from pure player to multi-hyphenate power brand. It’s a canny, possibly calculated play and one that distinguishes him from athletes of yesteryear who frequently struggled to find an identity beyond ‘footballer’, ‘tennis player’ or ‘hero’ when they hung up their boots and the cavalcade moved on. It figures; life as a mere civilian is tough after years as a god or gladiator.
You can rest assured that won’t be Kyrgios or Green. The tennis player, as he did on Noah’s pod, is increasingly casting himself as a normal person who sees tennis as a soulless job, akin to a call centre operator or a concreter. It’s not a calling, honour or privilege as much as it is a clock-punching, cheque-chasing exercise, a reason he gave for not pursuing grand-slam glory with the same maniacal, possibly mentally unhealthy dedication of Federer, Nadal and Djokovic. He might be wise.
But it will be interesting to see where exactly Kyrgios’ pod leads him. Former NBA star JJ Reddick, who was the first active NBA player to launch a podcast, parlayed its success, as well as his obvious broadcasting talent and supreme knowledge of the game, to land a coveted gig as an on-air sports analyst on ESPN.
You do have to wonder if that might be the ultimate goal of some of these athletes, for while they might market the intimacy and authenticity of their pods as portals to their real selves, unfiltered by mainstream media, it is not hard to see those that excel at it, such as Green—who’s already been tapped to join Shaq and Charles Barkley on TNT’s Inside the NBA when his career winds up—and possibly Kyrgios, ditching the pod for a cushy gig in a commentary box or on a panel show. Such a development would carry with it a certain amount of irony, but it could be that a brand-building pod is the savviest move an outspoken athlete can ever make.