Professional athletes deserve professional journalism
226 Have your say
The Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs Greg Eastwood tackles the Melbourne Storm's Todd Lowrie during the NRL Grand Final at ANZ Stadium in Sydney, Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012. (AAP Image/Dean Lewins)
Over the last few days, journalists have defended each other over the presence of the media at the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs Mad Monday celebrations.
In the wake of the furore that has erupted, it’s been extremely interesting to observe the media’s response.
In fact, it’s provided a real insight into the modern media’s mentality.
The media camping out of the front of the Belmore Sports Ground as the players partied inside is not, of course, the main story. The main story, and the reason for which the media was even there – and intently hoping and praying for – came in the form of some unsavoury and unacceptable comments directed at Channel 9 reporter Jayne Azzopardi.
While it has since been suggested that the vile comments were not made by players, that in no way excuses what was said by individuals who were still representing the Bulldogs football club, and rugby league in general.
The alleged comments made cannot be defended. They were disgraceful.
Yet the incident has provided the catalyst for a larger conversation about the media in general, what type of stories they desire, and their expectations, in terms of dealing with players.
Over the last couple of days, we’ve heard some consistent themes from the media, in response to their presence at the private function. These have included: access to players, respect towards the media, and a lack of trust from players towards journalists.
I have to say, the comments about access to players is quite ridiculous. Do the media really need access at that precise moment when players are drowning their sorrows and reflecting on a long, tough year? Really? At that very moment, you desperately need to talk to the players? That’s absolute rubbish.
Likewise, there is a delicious irony in bemoaning the lack of respect and trust from players towards the media, in an incident that revolved around the media attending an event to which they were uninvited and asked to leave. Would you respect and trust an individual that turned up to your wedding uninvited, and refused to leave?
I would argue that respect and trust is a two way street.
By no means am I defending the comments that were made. As colleague David Lord said yesterday, if the comments aren’t said, this is a non-story.
But the point about access to players is interesting, because it does seem like journalists think it’s their right to have contact with the players whenever they want. To me, that’s disrespectful and arrogant. Access shouldn’t translate to harassing players with impunity. It should equal players and coaches providing access voluntarily.
The most insightful sporting show in Australia, without doubt, is the AFL Fox Footy Channel’s On The Couch. What’s the crucial ingredient of this show? Coaches and players come on voluntarily, and are days removed from the heat of the battle. I learn a lot more about the individuals that participate on this program than I do from stories from journalists that camp out the front of training facilities.
Likewise, I recently read a fantastic article in Inside Sport about the Wests Tigers’ Benji Marshall, which was written after two separate one-on-one interviews with the player. That is, as opposed to him having a camera shoved in his face after he’s leaving a court hearing, or a reporter asking him questions through the window of his car as he departs training.
To me, On The Couch and Inside Sport represent how information and content about athletes should be both attained and consumed. It’s more insightful for the public, and more respectful to the athletes.
I can’t recall anything interesting or informative coming from unscheduled and intrusive media reporting. In fact, I believe the media drastically overestimates how important their beloved access to players really is.
To be more precise, I think it comes down to the type of access. I agree that players have a responsibility to promote their game, and to talk to the media. But that shouldn’t extend to 24/7 access, or pointless and banal questioning.
During cricket’s Twenty 20 Big Bash, the interviews by Fox Sports sideline reporters with batsmen who have just got out are cringe worthy, and hardly ever offer anything insightful. It’s clear the batsmen don’t want to talk, as their emotions are running high from being dismissed. It’s much more enjoyable listening to Shane Warne commentate while bowling. Why? Because it’s part of the game – the real reason we are watching.
Likewise, immediate post-match interviews rarely provide anything but a chance for a reporter to annoy someone, or catch them off-guard. It’s difficult to recall anything truly important ever being said straight after a game. Quite simply, players are either excited or disappointed. Coaches are either thrilled or angry. And they’re almost always fuming at referees or umpires either way.
Interviews out the front of a player’s house. Microphones shoved in the face of a coach as he arrives at an airport. Halftime chats with tired players. Does any of this really get fans closer to the sport or to the individuals?
It seems like some sports reporters are rapidly becoming reality TV cameramen, and nothing more.
The old fashioned one-on-one interviews are where we learn most about an individual. Those interviews can still provide the opportunity to ask tough, probing questions. Meanwhile, the individual in question doesn’t have to forfeit their privacy.
Professional athletes deserve professional journalism.
And vice versa; professional journalists deserve professional athletes.
After this week, I think it’s evident that the professionalism of all those involved in Australian sport, particularly rugby league, could do with an increase.
Ryan is an ex-representative basketballer who shot too much, and a (very) medium pace bowler. He's been with The Roar as an expert since February 2011, has written for the Seven Network and NBA Down Under, and been a regular on ABC radio. Ryan tweets from @RyanOak.