We have embarked upon a full on attack of established media corporations who will be summarily chided by a President who doesn’t appreciate or agree with their coverage. But this post won’t be about President Donald Trump only simply that the attacks on media for coverage deemed unfair or “made up” started long ago, in sports.
The role of the sports journalist has changed dramatically and with the advent of accepted sites like Players Tribune where an athlete can speak eloquently and directly to his or her fanbase speaks volumes to how marginalized the sports reporters are. But that doesn’t mean there is not a place for fair, balanced, nuanced and investigative sports reporting. The Los Angeles Chargers team site may not even address the reason why they aren’t in San Diego any longer and without real unbiased sports reporters, you’d never get the real story of why they felt they had (in their words) no choice but to leave their home for a half century.
Without real, balanced investigative journalists, you may never have seen the disturbing video of Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon punching out a woman in a deli a few years back. And without that release and dedication to covering the teams and athletes we admire, Mixon’s talents truly would have swept under the rug a misdeed most of us would be in jail for.
This is not exclusive to negative stories. Without fair unbiased sports journalists, the My Wish series produced by ESPN may not show you the things teams are doing to help people and communities.
Sports journalists have gotten into their fair share of fights especially recently. Check out a fracas between a Sacramento Bee columnist who wrote about some unsavory activities by Kings star DeMarcus Cousins and a family member. Then watch the video of Cousins confronting the columnist. Then, watch the editor at large of the paper skewering Cousins using some references that easily could be construed as racial.
Or read about Michael Bennett, the Seattle Seahawks defensive lineman who cursed out a reporter who asked about a lack of pass rush in the latter stages of their season ending playoff loss to the Atlanta Falcons. Bennett asks this reporter “what adversity had he ever faced,” assuming of course whatever his answer is couldn’t possibly be as difficult as trying to stop the NFL’s best offense on their home field. It turned out the reporter who asked the question is a cancer survivor. That doesn’t mean his question wasn’t stupid, but based on the outcome of the game, it appeared like a line of questioning that demanded pursuit.
Teams are controlling their own media outlets en masse. Full disclosure: The radio station I work for in Washington DC, ESPN 980, is owned by the Washington Redskins. Full disclosure: I’ve never been told what to say or what direction my content should take, which considering the circumstances seems mature of ownership. But of course, that wouldn’t stop anyone who wanted to insinuate the format to be more directive. Comcast SportsNet in Washington is partially owned by Ted Leonsis who also happens to be the owner of the two teams whose game rights are the livelihood of the network, the NBA Wizards and NHL Capitals. Full disclosure: I have been asked to periodically appear on Wizards pre and post game programming, and also I’ve never been told by management what topics are to be avoided etc. But I can only speak in both of these cases for my personal experiences.
Teams owning media outlets, including their own websites, digital initiatives and the rights to produce coaches shows etc only emphasizes that blurred lines between media and propaganda. But teams are shy in breaking their own news, which would be the last step to rendering employed journalists meaningless except in one critical place, free advertising. How much have leagues and local teams saved in free advertising by allowing interested media entities into their world? The answer couldn’t be measured. Go ask the teams in markets where the locsal press pays little to no attention. Their marketing budgets are swollen. How much does the New York Yankees have to pay in advertising in the new york region being that any sports fan of the team could find information about them in a multitude of sources and the information is so intricate, it’s not like a fan wouldn’t have access to the fullest picture at all times. Now ask the New York Red Bulls of the MLS if the coverage is enough? How do both go about selling tickets? Are the plans different, easier, harder?
The biggest heel turn in the history of this country is Trump’s desire to turn the public against the media for it was the media he used and manipulated for personal gain to be in this unprecedented position in the first place. Richard Sherman pulled his own version of this tactic just a month ago. Sherman is the charismatic cornerback of the Seahawks, has ridden fame in part to his stellar play, the likability of his team and of course their recent on field success. Sherman understands messaging. He, like Trump knows what will push the right buttons, move the needle. So when he criticized his teams offensive coordinator for a play call reminiscent of a fateful one that determined the outcome of a Super Bowl loss to New England, he spoke. The media reporterd his words and followed up with him a week later. But that exchange with a radio reporter who covers the team regularly didn’t go well. When a question about Sherman’s thoughts on the offense took a tongue in cheek approach, Sherman told the reporter not to try to start problems for him and that he’d make sure his career was ruined by taking his credential away. While incapable of following through with the threat, Sherman did continue his newfound media battle by refusing to speak to the majority of assembled credentialed reporters telling them it was a “privilege” not a right to hear him speak. To this point, he is actually right if you eliminate judging the ego part of such a statement. He doesn’t really need to speak. Whether he is that important to the daily news cycle might be news to him. And he might reflect at some point that participating with the media has helped him enjoy fame and with fame comes opportunity. Should the media decide that he isn’t worth the “privilege” of being an important voice worth recording, guess what happens?
Now, lets get to the matter at hand, which is fake media. Teams have (in many many cases) rightly disagreed with coverage they felt was unfair or in some cases, untrue. And President Trump may be right that the plethora of coverage of his run for office, his business, his life for that matter may include examples of poorly sourced guesswork. But that does make the media fake, or it’s important role in American society not palpable. We need the press. We need ethical journalists who cover Duke Basketball and who cover Russian diplomacy. To deny that is to deny a tenet of our society.
To chat with Bram Weinstein email him firstname.lastname@example.org