Dan Le Batard of the Miami Herald is a writer I greatly respect, and his Aug. 8 column, "Being real just isn't worth the trouble now," gave me a lot to think about, even though I didn't agree with everything he wrote. I thought that Le Batard oversimplified some of the problems facing sports media today, and he had a tendency to generalize with the concept that the media are dumber and meaner now. I tend to err on the side of reason in that case -- there are more people writing about sports than ever before; therefore, you have more geniuses and more idiots. There really isn't anything worse these days about sportswriting than there was generations ago, when supposedly independent and objective newspaper writers frequently buried controversial stories to stay on the good sides of the players and teams they covered.
But then, you get something like what happened after the Denver Broncos-Cincinnati Bengals game on Sunday, and you really start to wonder if Le Batard is 100 percent right, and the entire profession is going straight to heck. I touched on what happened when I reviewed quarterback Tim Tebow's inaugural NFL performance; but it's worth a bit more thought. Again, as first reported by Alex Marvez of FOX Sports (and the former president of the Professional Football Writers of America):
2 media members asked tebow for autographs in locker room. No, I wasn't one of them. Yes, he signed.
There are so many things wrong with this concept, I don't even know where to begin. First, that accredited members of the media would ask for autographs from a player ... that's just one step from hitting the press box wearing your home team's jersey and cheering through the entire game. According to Pro Football Talk, one of the media members was an unnamed Cincinnati reporter, and one was a photographer. PFT also reports that the Broncos' PR staff booted both individuals from the room after Tebow actually signed the autographs.
I suppose there's less of a problem with a photographer asking for an autograph if that photographer doesn't also write for an accredited news outlet, but the lack of professionalism in both cases is staggering, especially from a "mainstream media" that never holds back a chance to take shots at the blogosphere -- even as certain members of the "real press" get into their own professionalism and plagiarism flaps. It is amazing to me that anyone involved in a profession that has placed such a high internal value on the rules of objective coverage (and with good reason) would go this far outside standards that make sense.
If the sports media wants to prove themselves above the fray that Le Batard describes, the final step in this process (and kudos to Marvez for reporting it in the first place) is to name the two media members who asked for the autographs in the first place. Not to undermine or humiliate the people involved (you'd hope they each feel bad enough at this point), but to make it very clear that the standards apply to everyone. In every circumstance. And that anyone disgracing the profession under any circumstances will have to answer for it in the same public forum they use to get their words across. We know good and well that if someone from the blog universe had asked Tebow for an autograph in the locker room, his or her name would be all over the Internet right now, and his or her mistake would be used as the newest in seemingly infinite referendums on professionalism in sports media.
[Photos: Tim Tebow in action as the Broncos' QB]
Well, just because a newspaper or national website hires someone to write about the game doesn't mean that their transgressions are any less ridiculous. I would like to see the same level of outrage here -- if there's going to be any outrage at all.
I suppose the extent to which this happens will tell me whether Dan Le Batard was generalizing or not.
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- Dan Le Batard