Monday, January 30, 2017

Media matters: Fighting back against the bullies

        Keep in mind, I was a newspaper person for decades. So, yes, I'm partial to the media. I know the job isn't as easy as you might think, especially when you deal with jerks.
      And there are media people I did not respect all that much. But attacks on the media -- or disdain toward media people -- I don't like it. This has been a previous subject in this blog, so maybe you know how I feel.
      I find it disgusting, a copout, a poor excuse. But don't get the wrong idea. This is about football coaches, not politics. 
      Oh, I'll touch on politics -- but only for a moment.
      I don't agree at all when I hear the President -- making great use of his (appropriately named) bully pulpit -- attack the "dishonest, lying" media, just as he did as a candidate and then as President-elect. I think it is BS, Nixon-like paranoia, and we know how Nixon's political career ended.
      It takes a dishonest, lying person -- a bully -- to use those words. And it's every darned day; it gets old. It is a declared war.
      Media people are doing their jobs. If they don't agree with the President's actions and words, they are labeled "dishonest" and "lying." They are being told, by the President's top advisor, to "shut up."
      Wrong, wrong, wrong. That's not what the First Amendment is about.
      You don't like what I'm writing, you don't agree ... tough. Take it elsewhere. You are not going to convince that I am off-base, and I'm not going to convince you how ignorant you are to believe everything that's being said and done.
      I could do another whole blog on this (but I already have). Repeating what I said then: When I hear "mainstream media," it is a glittering generality. Be specific, give me names. Don't just say "the media."
      OK, I am going to leave it there. Back to football.
      Media access for those covering the NFL and college football is as limited as it ever has been. It is ridiculous; it is paranoia-plus. It is an undeclared war. 
Nick Saban: Election? What election? He's friendly and
 cooperative with the media only when he wants to be.
      Head football coaches, almost without exception, are running a secret society. They are a bunch of bullies. Yet we -- fans and, yes, sportswriters and talking heads -- glorify them, treat them like rock stars, like gods.
      Some of these coaches are being paid millions and millions of dollars -- that's the market now -- and it's all too much, in my opinion. Football should not be that important ... but in America, it is. And so are the coaches, unfortunately.
      When I wrote about this at the start of the 2015 football season -- -- a man I was about to interview first admonished me for that blog piece. I did not apologize, and I'm not apologizing now.
      And because we all look for affirmation of our beliefs (as we do about political matters), I found mine in a Sports Illustrated article by its media columnist Richard Deitsch posted Jan. 19.
      His main point is this "one voice" aspect that is almost universally followed now by head football coaches (NFL, college). Only one person -- the head coach -- speaks to the media. Access to the players is severely limited.
       These media-limited policies began, I believe, with Bill Parcells, an interesting guy and also a bully who passed it on to his cronies -- the unsmiling Bill Belichick (great friend of Nick Saban), Tom Coughlin, Al Groh, and on down the line. Soon it became standard procedure.
      We still like watching the games, we like the competition, we accept that brutality -- injuries, especially concussions and long-lasting effects -- are part of football and always will be. There's only so much that can be done to make the game "safer."
       (I use "like" instead of "love" for football now; I am, as I wrote last week, enjoyed it less and less. And part of the reason for that is the coaches' attitudes.)
       Here is how Deitsch began his article: 
       "I know, I know. Nobody wants to hear about the complaints of the sport media. But this is something that impacts you as a reader.                            

       "As part of an NFL roundtable discussion on a number of NFL-related topics, I asked six beat writers what they considered to be the most absurd media restriction in their market. I’ve always thought one of the most foolish media restrictions in sports was college football coaches not allowing assistant coaches to speak to the media. The restriction always struck me as strange (yes, I know Nick Saban has won a billion titles with it), especially given how successful teams in other college sports have no issues with their assistants speaking (e.g. Auriemma, Geno). It’s also an odd message to send to student-athletes: Only one person speaks for the program. But I digress."
       Here are some of the writers' responses:
       • Les Bowen, Eagles beat writer/columnist, Philadelphia Daily News: "I could write until my fingers bleed on this. There are about a dozen things that make it hard to do our jobs, starting with the fact that last year, the Eagles moved us from the media room, next to the media relations offices, into an outbuilding at the far edge of the parking lot, next to the entry gate. We have less access to the main building than we had previously. Also, we also only watch warmups and a brief bit of individual drills during the season; most of practice, we don’t see. And after games, the coach takes so long to come to the postgame press conference, if you go to that, you miss the players in the locker room. Then there is accessibility when it comes to the GM and the owner."                             
       • Mike Freeman, NFL writer, Bleacher Report. "The most ridiculous restriction of all time is not allowing journalists to cover practice. You hear from coaches and players how writers don’t understand football. So the logic is then to let us see less football?                            
       • Mary Kay Cabot, Browns beat reporter, "I dislike the fact that we’re not allowed on the field before the games. We used to be, and I always took advantage of it. In addition to running into some interesting people and celebrities, you can often the read the vibe of the team or the mood of a player heading into a game. You can glean something from pregame warmups and you can see how players interact with each other and their coaches. You see who the owner likes to talk to before games, and you have some great photo opportunities. There are tons of people on the sidelines before the game, from guests to corporate sponsors to people’s children and grandchildren -- and the media covering the team is not allowed down there. The other thing I don’t love is the once-a-week player designation. In the NFL, a few star players only have to talk to the media once a week, but lately it seems like too many players are only talking once a week. Here’s another way to solve the access issue. Once or twice a week, in addition to locker room access, let the media into the players’ lounge to have a more relaxed conversation with a player sitting on a couch, or over a game of ping-pong. Let us get to know the players and tell their stories. Don’t be afraid. It will be O.K."
     Of course, I empathize with these media people. Several of my friends and former co-workers are still covering college football and NFL teams, and I'm happy for them that (1) they're still employed and (2) doing what they love to do, and what needs to be done.
      I often have been critical in this blog about Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones. But I will give him this: As far as I can tell, he makes himself available to the media -- because he loves the camera and those mikes. Do I pay attention to what he says? I do not. But he's there for the media.
      Jason Garrett, however, I think is as bland, as predictable, as secretive and paranoid as any coach in the NFL. Fits right in.
      But let's go back to -- other than the eccentric and wound-tight Jim Harbaugh -- the most fascinating character in college football: Nick Saban. He can be cooperative with the media and often is, and when he feels like ranting and going off on somebody or some subject, he does. He's the king; he knows it, and he shows it.
      (And Dabo Sweeney of national champion Clemson has a charming side to his personality. But we've seen some Saban-like rants from him, on the sideline and with the media.)
      While I'm sure there were other low spots during this past football season, it was Saban who provided the low spot for me. Back to politics.
      When he was asked about the Presidential election the day after Mr. Trump's victory, Saban replied that he was unaware that Tuesday (Nov. 8) was Election Day.

      "It was so important to me that I didn't even know it was happening," Saban told the media. "We're focused on other things here."
      Oh, good god. How macho. Football is the only thing that matters. The rest of society be damned.
      I feel sure that Alabama had some football players who were eligible to vote. Maybe the head coach could have dealt in some civics lessons for his players. Or does that matter, as long as they win games?
      Give Saban credit, though. He followed up that inane comment with an explanation of why  he didn't want to talk about politics.
       "If I say I like one person, that means everybody that voted for the other person doesn't like me," Saban said. "So, why would I do that? I want what's best for our country. I'm not sure I can figure that out.
       "I want what's best for people who want to improve the quality of their life. I hope whoever our leader is will do all that he can do to make our country safe and improve the quality of life for a lot of the people we have in our country and I don't think I am qualified to determine who that should be."
      Of course, he's qualified to tell the media what they should think.
       As it relates to football and to the head coaches -- hello, Nick and Sabo and Gary Patterson and Harbaugh, Urban Meyer, Jim McElwain, Bobby Petrino and even (when he returns to the game) Les Miles, and all the rest, here's what I think can improve quality of life: Don't be such secretive, tight asses.
       As for the bully President and his buddies, attack the media all you want. Make it the enemy; it's a convenient, easy target. Throw all that general crap out there because a lot of people believe everything you say. And a lot of us don't believe much at all.
       Be sure that the media will fight back. Truth will win out.



  1. From Teddy Allen: You used to could know people a little and write about them better. Stupid. ESPN changed the world. Today’s gang grew up in a world that this is all they know, ballgames on TV all the time, lots of money changing hands, "pressure" and all. So coaches think it’s life and death. They’re entertainers! Not solving world hunger or curing cancer. They end up having LESS FUN. So stupid and dumb.

  2. From Sandi Atkinson: Interesting article. I believe college football is nowadays all about winning and how much alums are willing to donate to get the best facilities, coaches, and (probably) players so they can win. If keeping the media at bay helps their cause, even if it's paranoia-driven, I see why the coaches do it. I don't agree with it, but what can you do?
    As for the media -- I don't believe most of what I hear on TV from "newscasters" because so many slant the news to favor one side or another, generally based on ownership. At least in the Orlando market, I find that to be true.
    I no longer take the newspaper only because I can't afford it, but miss it very much. I always loved and trusted the newspaper. Even an on-line subscription just gets you a taste of news. Not like the old days when you could spend hours reading the paper and LEARN something.
    Trying to find real news on-line is a practice in futility and makes the National Inquirer's front page look boring compared to the ridiculous headlines on the web.
    Guess I'm a cynic when it comes to most media, but I agree that (as a whole) they are getting a bad rap from both the political side and football. Again, an interesting article albeit slightly biased. Kidding.

  3. From Ross Montelbano: I 100 percent agree with you and the importance of the media. When politicians attack the media, it reeks of having something to hide. It's what dictators do to control the people. Limit the amount of information that the people can hear. Having said that, I have seen paranoia rampant in the media, too. ...

  4. From Leo Van Thyn: Excellent article. A number of years ago I asked you about being mystified by the status of coaches in the U.S. Can’t believe how these folks are revered. Talented, yes. Great leaders of athletes, yes. God-like, definitely not.
    Trump has further legitimized the attacks on the media just as he has done with racism.

  5. From Chuck Baker: So why didn't you acknowledge those coaches who aren't afraid to say what they think; allow assistant coaches to speak to the press freely; allow players to speak as well (Bret Beliema at Arkansas)?

  6. From Maxie Hays: Very interesting observation. Pros and cons.

  7. From O.K. "Buddy" Davis: What boggles my mind is Nick Saban and others like him being so unaware of important things outside of their own comfort zone. As much as they are making, they could hire someone to read them non-football news each day.