Access, Ignorance and Making the Most of Precious Time

I read a couple of stories today, and they probably aren’t linked in the slightest. The order was random – actually, at the time of reading the first, the other hadn’t even been published yet. But the combination of the two got me thinking about how sports are covered in the media.

Leading off was Jessica Luther’s piece for RH Reality Check on the Dallas Cowboys’ signing of convicted domestic assaulter and NFL defensive end Greg Hardy. The Hardy signing shows the conspicuous hypocrisy of the NFL, and Luther called it out for what it is. How can you watch a No More PSA during commercial break and then see Hardy take the field? One is pushing a serious introspection of sport world culture, while the other, in stark contrast, is pushing a blind eye. Something seems off.

The situation is complicated, sure – in fact, despite the signing, the NFL has not yet taken him off the league’s exempt list. There has been resistance from some in the media, there has been willful ignorance from others and there was the usual tone-deafness from an NFL franchise. There are second chances, but there’s a difference between living honestly with the past and ignoring it. Life is taken in total. We don’t get to pick and choose.

But how many times can the media revert to the same old approach on domestic assault coverage and other sensitive topics? Are we taking steps? Yes. But we’re not even close to where we need to be.

The latter end was Bryan Curtis’s piece for Grantland on the Oklahoma City Thunder’s seemingly omnipresent public relations staff, ever-looming over the players for eternity. Told from a sportswriter’s perspective, the details don’t show well, as Thunder PR was breaking up even the most mundane conversations between media and player, not to mention potentially contributing to the players’ disdain for the media.

It was damning, in its own sort of way. As an employee of a collegiate media relations staff, it was eye-opening to see how some at the professional level may handle such situations. The Thunder’s conduct is not how I envision the industry working, and I think that’s sentiment shared by most. But the limited access is something the media in OKC must deal with – although I disagree with the tactics.

Which all got me thinking…

For better or worse, access to professional athletes is quite precious. Writers must make the most of their interview time. The practice that Curtis described of media relations staffers dominating interviews is something I’ve experienced first-hand in some of my writing ventures. It’s terribly infuriating and all too common. So when the opportunity arises to have time with athletes, so too must the writer rise to the occasion.

Ask the questions that need to be asked. Broach the subjects that need to be broached. Talk about, you know, what actually needs to be talked about.

One of the great things of being a part of the social media world we live in is organizations are held accountable. So, in the writer’s case, not only is your place of employment behind you, so too should be the rest of the industry. If a team locks out a writer – or stupider, an entire media organization – people will find out. And people will speak out for you.

So, instead of asking a guy like, say, Greg Hardy how he felt getting that super important tackle for a loss in the first quarter of a game in Week 2 or heck even that epic sack in the playoffs, ask him about domestic violence – personally and the policies of the NFL. Ask him about what he has tangibly done to change. Ask him what really matters.

The time’s yours… and that time is precious.

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