No cheering in the press box? Unwritten rules don't apply at World Cup

Graham Watson
Photographers crowd around the Algerian team as they form a huddle before the World Cup round of 16 soccer match between Germany and Algeria at the Estadio Beira-Rio in Porto Alegre, Brazil, Monday, June 30, 2014
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Photographers crowd around the Algerian team as they form a huddle before the World Cup round of 16 soccer match between Germany and Algeria at the Estadio Beira-Rio in Porto Alegre, Brazil, Monday, June 30, 2014. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

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RIO DE JANEIRO — Cesc Fabregas wouldn't stop to talk to anyone.

Following Spain's 2-0 loss to Chile at Maracana Stadium in Rio, Fabregas was the first Spanish player out of the locker room and the last thing he wanted to do was stop and talk to media about why Spain would be going home early.

But as he got to the end of the media maze players must weave through to get out of the stadium, a journalist called out to him in Spanish. Fabregas stopped, smiled, reached into his gym bag and threw the man his dirty, used game shorts.

Journalism.

[Photos: 25 shameless Neymar selfies]

The credentialed man would later tell a Yahoo reporter that he and Fabregas were friends.

Welcome to the wonderful world of international media, where neutrality is a suggestion and popping out of the press corps to snap a selfie with your favorite footballer is not only acceptable, it's commonplace.

Being at the World Cup has opened my eyes to the differences between American media and international media – specifically, how objectivity takes a backseat to rubbing shoulders with the game's biggest stars.

Sure, there might be some fans who take no issue with their media members being fans of their teams, but when those journalists cross the line and start spouting things you're more likely to read on a message board than in a newspaper or a credible website, it's a black mark on journalism as a whole.

Dutch photographers take photos of the Netherlands' team practice. (Getty)
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Dutch photographers take photos of the Netherlands' team practice. (Getty)

There are unwritten rules in American media – or written rules, depending on where one gets a degree – about how to act, how to dress and how to speak when you're dealing with professional athletes. Almost all of them deal with leaving your fanboy emotions at the door, remaining objective and doing your job. Most credentials for major sports in the U.S. note that autographs aren't allowed and credentials will be revoked if you're caught trying to seek one. Teams or leagues must clear any personal photo opportunities. In press boxes across the U.S. — at any level or event — an announcement is made prior to the contest that cheering is prohibited.

[Related: Luis Suarez set to be rewarded with Barcelona move despite latest controversy]

Those rules don't apply at the World Cup.

It's OK to wear your favorite player's jersey to the game in which he's playing. It's OK to tie a Colombian flag around one of the television posts in the media room because, after all, it does match your Colombian backpack. It's totally fine to wear your Fernando Torres jersey while you're waiting to interview Fernando Torres (Yes, this happened).

These superfans with credentials cheer and jump up and down when the team they're covering scores a goal. They curse and throw things when their team does something poor. And when it comes time for interviews, they come at the teams with as much passion or vitriol — depending on the result — as a person venting on a message board.

I lost count of the number of times media members congratulated the coach on a victory or told a player how great they were before they asked a question that most children would ask upon meeting their idol. Following France's 0-0 decision against Ecuador, one media member asked coach Didier Deschamps when he was going to give him the gift of another World Cup title.

[Related video: What did the USA learn in the World Cup?]

Could you imagine a writer from the Boston Globe asking Bill Belichick when the Patriots were going to give him the gift of another Super Bowl?

During a Dutch press conference with Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder, a man from Serbia started to ask a question when Dutch media relations cut him off and called him out for approaching the two players about taking a selfie with him. Sure enough, after the press conference ended, another media member blocked the exit so he could get his picture with Robben. In an earlier press conference with the Dutch, media lined up to have their pictures taken with Dirk Kuyt, who stayed for 10 minutes snapping photos.

And I have no words for the Chilean media member who flashed her chest for a photo during the Chile-Brazil game; a picture that ultimately went viral and set female journalism back about three decades. I'm sure Mary Garber, who fought for female sportswriting equality when women were banned from press boxes and locker rooms, was rolling over in her grave.

Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo (L) jokes behind RTP television journalist Hugo Gilberto. (AP Photo)
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Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo (L) jokes behind RTP television journalist Hugo Gilberto. (AP Photo)

"l think American media wouldn't put up for long with anyone trying to get in the way of them doing their jobs," said Jerry Emig, associate director for athletics communications at Ohio State. "Such as what would occur if people were more interested in a selfie with a coach or player versus a sound bite or quote.

"We don't have to ask media not to take photos or ask for autographs. It's behavior that simply isn't tolerated."

[Photos: Eliminated teams arrive home from World Cup]

It's not fair to paint all international journalists with the same brush. There are many who are objective and very good at their craft. Not every foreign journalist is openly rooting for the team they cover or wearing team colors or living and dying with every goal. But as someone who has been in the media since she was 16, it's definitely an eye-opening and disconcerting experience.

This isn't me saying that Americans have some sort of ethical superiority when it comes to journalism, but staying neutral gives journalists a very different perspective and perhaps one that is ultimately more respected by fans and readers.

And it's a perspective that doesn't require me to compromise my objectivity — or force me to wear a Tim Howard jersey — to get a good story.

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Graham Watson is the editor of Dr. Saturday on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email her at dr.saturday@ymail.com or follow her on Twitter