In the past week or so, I’ve noticed a few pieces lamenting the closed-off world that today’s athlete now inhabits; one complete with public relations people, agents, ertc. Pat Jordan wrote about that downfall in Slate, the Boston Globe’s Dan Shaughnessy whined about it recently in a column, and now, ESPN’s Scott Burnside is getting testy about how Penguins owner Mario Lemieux isn’t making himself available for sidebar or halftime show pieces, even implying that Lemieux only is accessible to the press when he has something to promote or his ego to stroke.
Considering the way the press has changed in how it treats athletes over the years, I fully support every athlete’s attempt to control his or her own image as much as possible — and that even extends to Lemieux, who is now an owner, but is being sought out because of his situation as a former legend of the club he owns. Shaughnessy and Jordan even admit as much. Jordan writes:
In those days, there was no big disparity between the income of a writer and that of an athlete. Catfish was probably making about 20 G’s a year, and I was making 25 G’s a year from SI. That’s why Catfish was so accessible—those free dinners, and, maybe, when my story came out, some employee for Skoal or Red Man tobacco would call up Catfish and ask him to endorse their products for a sum of money almost equal to his salary.
This is crucial to me — because so many writers seem to have this sheen of resentment about covering athletes who make much more now than they will ever hope to see in their lives; it slants their views on whether a player is producing (notice how just about every player in a slump will come with a reminder of his contract in baseball, for example), and players don’t need that extra bit in a 24/7 sports news cycle that’s already designed to chew them up and spit them out.
Is it any wonder Andruw Jones, slumping fellow that he is and overpaid, was telling T.J. Simers of the L.A. Times that he didn’t care. Simers went up there and mocked him, and what did he expect? I certainly don’t expect journalists to fawn over their subjects (they don’t work for MLB), but given the way journalism as a whole has gone over the past couple of decades, with every bit of police blotter fare and public slip-up being there for scrutiny, every pro athlete better have a crack PR staff to vet interview requests. Due diligence requires it.