An open letter to star athletes from a media member (with love)

You have no reason to know who I am – and that’s OK with me. I’m not the story here.

But I am a member of “the media.” I’m not sorry about that, either.

You see, just like a lot of words that have become victims of overuse, the words “The Media” now have a negative connotation – like the words liberal and conservative. These nebulous, undefined groups of people are placed in these categories, and it’s like signing your birth certificate – it can’t be changed. You ARE THE MEDIA. You’re with us or against us. You’re someone who fawns over us, or you’re a detractor.

The media itself has become a sort of whipping post for athletes. Not that the media isn’t used to it – over the years, it has taken the blame for various and sundry illnesses, conditions, social behaviors and accidents in athletic and news fields. Your kid is a hellion? Media. You don’t like the president, or what he’s saying? Media spin, liberal media, lamestream media. Tired of nearly-naked people gyrating on TV? Clearly all the media’s fault. Your kid saw something violent on the news and re-enacted it? Not the parents fault – it’s the media.

Or my personal favorite: “I’m just here so I won’t get fined.”

Did you ever have to do something that you knew you were going to get yelled at about? Did you ever think, “God, I wish I didn’t have to do this, but my job requires it of me.”

Well, Marshawn, and those he’s inspired with his faux-rebellious “revolution” against the media, guess what – we’re just doing our jobs so we don’t get fired. And we know you hate it, but we have to. Just like you have to lash out because you’re so very tough.

The media, you see, didn’t just decide to cover you one day. The media, your red football for anger lately, has been kicking with you since that first scout saw some potential. The media – or maybe, just one member of the media – saw you one day and said, “Wow, check this dude out. The scouts were right. I’m going to watch him, write about him, do a Sunday package about him.” That reporter, or editor, or columnist, became, in essence, a fan with a pen and forum. You were the new subject line, and we had to learn everything we could about you. FAST.

In fact, Marshawn, when you were in high school, you welcomed the media. You shouted into microphones about winning your high school state title. You beamed with sunshine and light as cameras captured your real feelings about the win:

You were joyous. Funny. A pleasure.

Then you went and got too big for your britches, as we’d say in my home state. And we, the media, had a hand in creating some of that too. But instead of saying, “You know what, I don’t really want to talk about this –can we just talk about the game? Or whatever” you decided to make it personal.

I’m not saying the media is perfect. Heavens to Betsy, no. But in Marshawn’s case, and in those under the cascade of ire that fell beneath him, it seems like you just want a kick dog, a cause, something to be angry at. SOMEONE TO BLAME. I want to remind you of this – we’re people too. And athletes used to say they didn’t care what people wrote, didn’t care what reporters said about them. Something changed, and I’m not sure what it was, other than maybe social media.  Do you like it when you’re blamed for losing a game? Of course not. We hate losing at our game too.

Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, two of my favorite athletes ever, are buying into what Marshawn was selling, and so will countless others. Marshawn, trendsetter and junk-grabber that he is, created a wide-open path of hatred that can easily be trod, with him skipping down the center of the aisle, strewing vitriol left and right like an overgrown flower girl. Others saw how much attention the media gave his antics and thought, you know what, I’m sick of them too. Russ and KD are angry, which, as a fan, kind of excites me. They’re taking on an “us vs. them” mentality, which is sometimes good for the win-loss column. But, as a member of the vile “media,” I am kind of scared by this too.

Selfishly, I want my guys to be the good guys. I want them to be the guys in white hats, not a bunch of Bill Laimbeers (though I’d like to see more Laimbeer style on the court!) I like my media darling KD. I love being able to say, “He’s one of us Oklahomans.”

But they’re mad. And I kind of get it. I really do. Having to sit at a table surrounded by people clamoring to know more about you — that’s got to be hard. Now that I work for the Worldwide Leader in Sports, I understand the push and pull from us vs. them. We swarm, like other members of the media. We are always there, watching you play, following you on Twitter and Instagram, tracking your every move. We say things about you in print that are hurtful sometimes. We write headlines that we didn’t mean (Mr. Unreliable, anyone?) We jump on you when you’re down, and we probably don’t do enough to tell you that you’re doing a good job. Because we’re the biggest dogs on the block, we absorb the most hits. But we’re ESPN, so we can take it. (But it does suck reading bad things about your business all the time on Twitter.)

I am a good empathizer. I can understand how it must feel to be under the microscope your entire career. I can understand how you just really want to be left alone, how you think we don’t know what we’re talking about (agreed, we sometimes don’t), and how you just want to get away from all of it and be by yourself and not deal with any of this.

Now I want you, dear athlete, to empathize a little. Do your part – it’s that simple. Show up, play the literal game, then the figurative one after the game – the media part.

Think about it – you’re a big enough deal that the entire country wants to see you on TV. You’re a big enough deal that people write about you on a daily basis, checking your stats, your trends, your ebbs and flows, EVERY SINGLE DAY.

You’re a big enough deal that kids, adults and grandparents wear your name on the back of a T-shirt or jersey TO CHURCH.

Now, if we, the media, ignored that, we’d be sucking at our jobs. Most of us are just as competitive or fiery as you (though not in as good a shape, we admit.) We want to be good at our jobs. We want to get a scoop. And some of us don’t do that in the best ways.

But we, really, aren’t a “we.” Behind all of it, we’re people, writing about people. Sometimes writing about people makes people mad. But you move on – and you should too, athletes. Move on – read something else. Pay no attention. Quit saying you ARE paying attention in the media scrum. Comments like “You don’t know anything” and “You’re just the media, I hate you” don’t do much for me, and make you look small in my mind. Plus, it creates a hostile workplace for us. More and more athletes will join this crusade against the media, when really, they should just weather the storm and keep moving. And fans are joining in now too. The same fans who will buy our papers by the dozen when they have your face emblazoned on the cover, hoisting some sort of trophy over your head. They’ll love us then. For the moment – the ever-fleeting moment.

Because guess what? Just like our non-athletic asses will someday be dragging the floor, yours might too. This “blame the media” thing won’t fly if you’re not performing. It just won’t. It will look weak. Marshawn’s antics came from a catbird seat – he’s at the peak of his game now. We just sit in awe as he slashes and burns his way to the end zone (and in my case, turn around in disgust when he grabs his business. I mean, come on, it’s gross) and can’t say much else to him, because, well, he’s a stud. Same can be said about many athletes today who are angry at the media.

 

But we have to report about them NOW. Someday, we won’t. Someday, their stars will fade. Someday, when their knees have been surgered too many times to count, they might see what we were trying to do – build around the excitement of THEM. Of that moment. Of that One Shining Moment. We were giving them a moment – THEIR moment, that they earned. Do you want future fans to look back at you and think, “Why was he such a jerk to the media?” Maybe you do. And that’s your bidness.

I don’t blame you for being annoyed sometimes. Super Bowl week, during the whole Marshawn situation, I tried to get to the bottom of who assigns these guys to talk, who enforces them to come to the podium, if it’s part of their contracts. Well, it’s not an easy answer. It’s a little of this, a little of that. Media participation is included in contracts, as well as mammoth TV deals that give teams and leagues huge amounts of cash to play with and millions of eyes watching. Deciding who has to talk to the media  involves the team, reporters, publicists, and the league itself, as well as the league’s union and Collective Bargaining Agreement. The league and team don’t come to the media’s defense during the Blame Game, even though they, too, have a hand in sending athletes to the podium. But they sure don’t mind letting the media be The Fall Guys. I can’t say I blame them. Pretty smart move, actually.

So just like you, the athlete, think you’ve got it all figured out, look around – is it really JUST us that’s doing all this to you? And in the grand scheme of things – considering that there are starving people, kids being killed, etc. – is it really THAT big of a deal?

I guarantee you, any – ANY – athlete struggling to come up would trade spots with you. Why not enjoy, endure and excel? Be the bigger person. Channel your inner David Robinson.

DeMarco Murray, or St. DeMarco as he is known in Norman, Okla., said it best during Super Bowl week. I can’t find the exact quote, but it went a little something like this: Yeah, it kind of sucks. But it’s an obligation. I’m lucky to be here. I can do this and I won’t be any worse for the wear (unless I say something stupid out of childishness.)

I guess what I’m saying is, lighten up, guys. You have won the Life Lottery. You make billions in your career to play a game. Just talk to the media, play your game and WIN. Then they won’t have much to say to you, except WOW GREAT JOB.

I am bothered by how many athletes are turning against the media. I want us to get along. I want us to be able to tell your stories, and I want you to be able to tell us how you feel, or how the team feels.

We are not evil lying manipulators  — well, not all of us. We are literally the narrators of the game – the ones who write what you just saw and try to give you some context surrounding it.

We just want to get along with you, share the arena with you and the fans. Most of us – not all – but for the most part, we just want to do our jobs.

We’re just here so we won’t get fired.

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under ESPN, Haters, Kevin Durant, NBA, Politics?, Russell Westbook, The Media!, TV

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