Good reads (and watches)

Update – November 13: Zirin has issued a partial apology today for his characterization of Jay Glazer’s interview with Richie Incognito. Zirin based his criticism on what originally appeared on FOX on Sunday. But the longer interview between Glazer and Incognito, which appeared on the web on Monday, featured more pointed questions, including some that Zirin had wrongly criticized Glazer for omitting.

Zirin:

Glazer, when you see the full interview, asked in a tougher tone about Incognito’s racism, asked more about the bullying and how far it extended, and asked whether the coaches “ordered the code red”. These questions are important. They also ended up on the initial cutting room floor, as I saw last night on Fox Sports. I maintain, given the importance of this story, that Fox did us all a disservice by not being brave and just saying “heck with the pre-game show. Let’s show this interview to the widest possible audience.” But they didn’t and that is not on Jay Glazer. (Glazer it is worth noting, disagrees with me about this, saying that they have “a responsibility to all the NFL fans who don’t care about this story.” I think the story is big enough that they should have just gone for it.)

Zirin also erroneously reported that Glazer had an existing financial relationship with Incognito.

So, with that, I need to apologize, too (not that anyone cares), since I passed along Zirin’s analysis uncritically and he got some very important things very wrong. Obviously, I respect Zirin a lot and believe him to be a diligent and conscientious writer. But he made serious mistakes and I reproduced them here (Zirin has by no means repudiated all of what he originally wrote about the interview).

I leave here what I originally wrote, for the sake of integrity, and still stand by the general point about access journalism.

Here are a few good reads and watches I’ve come across in the past 24 hours, related to the Martin-Incognito situation:

1) Zirin, in the Nation, takes Jay Glazer to task for the interview Glazer conducted over the weekend with Incognito. Zirin is especially critical of the fact that Glazer agreed not to ask some of the most important (and obvious) questions, like whether Incognito received any kind of order or incentive to “toughen up” Jonathan Martin. It’s also been pointed out that Glazer and Incognito have had financial dealings together. (Deadspin has also written critically about the Glazer interview).

This kind of “access” journalism tends to make a joke of the entire enterprise. Glazer wants ratings and hits. Incognito wants a friendly public forum in order to tell his side of the story. How exactly is the public better informed about the situation as a result? As Zirin notes, most of the time there isn’t much at stake in sports journalism. I’ve made this point before. Whether we know about a trade twelve hours before it’s officially announced because Adam Shefter “broke” the news is about as inconsequential as it gets. It’s entertainment, nothing more. But every so often, an important issue comes up in the sports world that really does shed some light on larger and more important issues. When that happens, we need the folks covering the story to do so conscientiously and with a larger good in mind.

Back in my Sports Media Review days, I wrote about an interesting interview featuring long-time sports writer Dave Krieger, of the Rocky Mountain News. This was in December 2006 and Krieger was critical of recent comments by ESPN baseball writer/pundit Tim Kurkjian, who’d said we should stop dredging up details of the steroids era and just move on.

Here’s part of what Krieger had to say:

I understand it’s entertainment. I’m writing a column today about the Broncos that has very little journalistic value but huge entertainment value – the Broncos get huge attention in this marketplace. If I see myself that way – as an entertainer – then what I write doesn’t have to have significance. That’s fine – that’s what I’m being paid to produce because there’s a market for it. But when big issues like steroids come in, then we have trouble finding our footing because we’re in a different role than the traditional journalist.”

I wrote at the time:

It strikes me that many sports journalists do like to criticize the entities they cover, for reasons I have discussed before, including their resentment at the growing gulf between their lifestyles and those of the players they cover. But, what most sports reporters don’t really do is traditional reporting. As Krieger notes, reporters ought to be embracing their status as outsiders. It’s noteworthy that he himself began his career as a city hall reporter because, as Washington Post media reporter Howard Kurtz argued in his 1993 book, Media Circus, American reporters once believed that their job was to “get City Hall.” What’s changed, Kurtz argued, was the infusion into the journalistic ranks of college educated professionals who were more likely to identify with the powerful. Without belaboring that point here, it seems clear that sports journalists are enamored of the trappings of big-time sports. They may moralize about player excesses and the like, but they are not likely to do the hard work necessary to scrutinize seriously the corruption and dark underbelly of the very powerful interests that run the major sports enterprises. This is why work by the likes of Pete Thamel and Duff Wilson, on store-front high schools handing out bogus High School diplomas to football recruits is so significant. Or why Neil Demause’s work on stadium issues stands out. Thamel and Duff and Demause do real reporting – digging for hard to find facts and putting them in a context that gives readers real information about abuses of power.

Not every sports story needs to be (or should be) about these larger issues. But, Krieger’s right – sports media coverage today appears to erode the skills necessary for sports journalism to take on the big issues when that is called for. It’s frustrating to see how rare those skills are.

2) Deadspin has another piece, featuring the experiences of Cam Cleeland, a former NFL player who was subject to egregious hazing as a rookie with the Saints. His account is sickening – among other things, he lost permanent vision in one eye because a teammate on a gauntlet he was forced to run smashed him the face with a bag full of coins (anyone remember the soda can scene in Bad Boys? I won’t link to it, but you can easily google it). Cleeland, incidentally, was a teammate of Incognito’s in 2005, Incognito’s rookie season, and describes him in highly unflattering terms.

3) here’s Shannon Sharpe, linked to by Zirin, speaking with great passion and anger about Incognito and what has been tolerated in the Dolphins’ locker room. Worth watching.

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