Sometimes I wonder why Packers players and other professional athletes bother speaking with the media. If it wasn’t mandated by the league, would the incentive to speak to the press be enough to entice players to do it?
In years past, the answer would be yes. These days? I’m not so sure.
Interaction between the media and players is a big reason why sports have exploded in popularity. The media is supposed to be an extension of the fans. By speaking to the press, you’re essentially speaking to the fans. Sports wouldn’t rank as high on America’s cultural landscape without athletes like Joe Namath, Charles Barkley, Pete Rose and Wayne Gretzky being not only great players, but larger-than-life people and ambassadors for their respective sports through interactions with the media.
In other words, athletes used to need the media. Media exposure is a big reason why professional sports is now a multibillion dollar business and many athletes are multimillionaires.
These days, it seems like it’s the other way around. It’s media outlets that need the athletes.
For the purpose of this piece, I’m going to pick on the radio show Green and Gold Today. Before I do, I want to make clear that I listen to G&G Today daily and love it. I trust Jason Wilde on the Packers more than any other reporter and Bill Johnson is the rare combination of over-the-top, yet insightful.
But two things bothered me about the show this week and illustrate why I wouldn’t speak to the media if I were a pro athlete in this day and age:
- Greg Jennings didn’t use Aaron Rodgers’ name in an interview with the St. Paul Pioneer Press this week. This may or may not be Jennings dissing Rodgers. Either way, Johnson said, “Last night when I read that I felt like a sucker. I was defending Greg Jennings. I thought he was different. I didn’t think he was just another dopey wide receiver that all they care about is the number of catches they get. All of that just went out the window. To me, he’s just another selfish guy…” Really? One quip in an interview changes your entire viewpoint on Jennings as a human being? So if Jennings just ignores the interview request from the Pioneer Press, would Johnson still think Jennings is a swell dude? I know Jennings probably doesn’t care what Johnson thinks of him, but how does Jennings benefit from doing an interview like this if people are going to make judgments about his entire character based on a comment or two? Jennings doesn’t benefit. But Johnson’s radio show sure does.
- An ESPN report came out that said Ryan Braun may be one of many baseball players facing a 100-game suspension for using steroids. Wilde and Johnson wondered out loud if Braun — who is good friends with Aaron Rodgers — being linked to steroids reflects poorly on the quarterback. A couple of soundbites were played from a year ago where Rodgers defended Braun when the Brewers outfielder wriggled out of a steroid suspension because of how his urine sample was stored. Wilde and Johnson (rightfully) concluded that Braun’s steroid issues have nothing to do with Rodgers. But the whole situation shows why there is little benefit for an athlete to speak to the press. Rodgers stands up for his friend, and a year later, the soundbite is resurrected and played in a way that some folks may connect Rodgers to steroids. Most people won’t make that connection (at least most sane people), but some will, and likely have. Rodgers speaking to the press about the issue and being honest did nothing positive for his image or how he’s perceived. It did draw some attention to the radio show, though.
The media puts a microphone in athlete’s faces and wants them to be honest, say something unique, be insightful. Then when they are, we — the reporters who gather the quotes and the fans who read/listen/watch their stories — pounce. We judge who they are as human beings. We dig up old soundbites and make vague connections to scandals. We pick and poke and prod and yell and scream and come to all sorts of conclusions, some of them rational, many of them not.
How does this benefit the athlete? It’s definitely benefiting the media companies through increased viewership, readers, listeners, page views and downloads, but how does speaking with the press benefit today’s athlete?
In the past, most press was good press. There wasn’t nearly as much media and a lot of this stuff helped build huge followings for individual athletes, teams and leagues.
I’m a part-time sports reporter. I’m in clubhouses and locker rooms all the time. There are media members buzzing around like flies after most games, and I’m in Minneapolis, hardly a large market like Boston or New York. When I’m sticking my recorder in the middle of a media scrum trying to get a few quotes, I often wonder what the athlete would do if he wasn’t mandated to speak with us.
If I were the athlete, I would speak only on rare occasions. Why should I have to help a newspaper sell more copies or a radio show gain more listeners by giving them quotes and soundbites? I can communicate with fans on my own through Twitter and other social media outlets without using some dude with a voice recorder and notebook as a middle man.
As long as I perform on the field and help my team, my image should take care of itself. The rest I can handle through social media or a PR firm. I don’t necessarily need a reporter or third-party media outlet to get my name out there or enhance my image, or the league’s image, like in the old days.
As a serious fan, it’s great having guys like Wilde around the team to provide us with context and sift through a lot of the B.S. that coaches and players say. But as a player, there’s very little value in speaking to the media. It seems to create more headaches than it’s worth.
I wonder if the major sports leagues will ever reach that same conclusion?
Packers News, Notes and Links
- John Rehor covers everything you need to know about Brett Favre accepting some of the blame for his divorce from the Packers. Things appear to be moving in the right direction. Hopefully No. 4 is retired at Lambeau Field in the near future.
- The ALLGBP.com crew interviewed former Packers fullback William Henderson and it’s a must listen. Really great stuff.
- Want an update on the Packer ILB situation? Well, the update is that there’s not much new to report.
- Here is the first of many “Jermichael Finely will be more focused this season” stories that will run before week 1.
- Could the Packers use the franchise tag on somebody in 2014? There are several good candidates.
Non-Packers Links and Other Nonsense
I was so busy this week, I didn’t have time to do much non-Packers reading. Help me out: Use the comments section to tell me what non-Packers stories I may have missed.——————