I was almost late to my first class of the semester last week because the two-man dissertation on the radio was so intriguing. Massarotti and Felger went on more-or-less a twenty-minute rant about how sportswriting, specifically beat writing, has gone to crap. They’re absolutely correct about this. It seems like in 2011 (and, in my opinion, probably starting in roughly February 2008), every beat writer has their guys they protect and the guys they hammer. And it all comes down to one thing: access.
We’re all guilty of having our boys and our non-boys. I don’t like Drew and 46; I love Coco Crisp. Pat loves everyone. Tim loves Matsuzaka. From the Bronx loved Brett Gardner and hated Arod, Reggie Jackson, and Pettitte. Steve Buckley loves 46 but hates Matsuzaka. Massarotti hates 46 and loves Varitek. Even worse, Felger thinks, is guys like Ron Borges who twist stories so they line up with an argument they made three years ago. I’m also guilty of that!
But when you’re supposed to be an objective journalist (which we’re not – we’re here to facilitate discussion to get ourselves through the work day), you should be in the business of the truth, and these guys aren’t. But, unfortunately, they don’t have much of a choice. If you want athletes to talk to you, you can only write nice things about them. And that’s crap.
Not that I’m JD Drew, 46, or anyone of any kind of significance as an athlete except in the eyes of a very narrow range of people. But if someone (with the exception of a competitor) having the balls to say that I absolutely sucked in a certain race (you know, like one about 376 days ago), good for them. They’re doing their job. I’d probably give them even more access because I respect the job they do as a purveyor of the truth. The best comments I got from anyone after running the fun run in April in 2008, as an athlete, was when a couple of former runners pointed out my slowest split of the day. They’re the only ones with any balls. Everyone else wanted to tell me how great I was.
But your typical athlete of 2011 (and this also goes for coaches) don’t get asked hardball questions anymore, because if they get asked a hardball question, they won’t talk to you anymore. On WEEI, Felger was saying, the morning guys (who interview Brady) blame Belichick, and the afternoon guys (who interview Belichick) blame Brady. But if they don’t do that, they lose their hard-fought privilege to talk to the guy.
I like Kevin Millar a lot now that I can distance myself from the 400-foot foul balls and strikeouts on balls in the dirt. But that guy was a baby. He hated WEEI when he was here, offering the opinion of “they think I suck. Well, I think they suck.” If someone said he sucked, he’d stop talking to them. It's hard to do your job if nobody talks to you. So if you want any access from Millar, you have to kiss his butt.
And this is the case way too often. Especially in places like Boston and New York, when you’re being covered by three newspapers, eight television stations, two radio stations, and five websites. The players have all the leverage. If you keep it real and dare to say anything negative, you are in the player’s, team’s, and organization’s doghouse. And considering that all of these outlets are competing for unique information, if you are in the doghouse, you’re screwed.
The way I see it, this blew up to the current level when the Herald’s John Tomase write an irresponsible story about the Patriots filming of the Rams’ walkthrough six years earlier – the day of Super Bowl 42. This pissed me off because of the timing and the fact that there was no proof. That’s irresponsible journalism. But what if it were true? Tomase was completely shunned by the Patriots, and you can say with certainty that this guy will never, ever cover the team again.
From here, it was clear that the journalists didn’t have any leverage. The athletes did. And this continues in all sports, and every beat article you have to read with a discerning eye.
Two more brief points: Ups to Massarotti. He wrote a book with David Ortiz and likely made a ton of money. However, he hammered Ortiz last year when Ortiz blamed the media for a whole bunch of things. My second point: Though I am not a purveyor of the truth, instead being a facilitator of discussion, I will try my best this baseball season to crush when crushing is due, and give credit where that is due. That’s right – if JD goes 4-5 on a Friday night with three home runs, I’m saying he’s great.
Journalists won’t do it. So I will instead.
Enjoy yo day.