Reality check on athlete-media relations: NBAPA head’s comment adds to disconnect

An excerpt of my latest column for the National Sports Journalism Center at Indiana:


It’s been a somewhat volatile time in athlete-media relations. There was the nuttiness of Marshawn Lynch at the Super Bowl and Kevin Durant’s anti-media rant at the NBA All-Star Game. In Toronto, the Maple Leafs’ Phil Kessel vented that the media should be “embarrassed” by its negative coverage. Never mind that Toronto is one of the worst teams in the league.

Yet one voice on the issue was particularly troubling. And it didn’t belong to an athlete.

In an interview with Kate Fagan at ESPNW, Michele Roberts, the new executive director of the NBA Players Association, recently made headlines with her perspective of the media.

“Most of the time I go to the locker room, the players are there and there are like eight or nine reporters just standing there, just staring at them,” Roberts said. “And I think to myself, ‘OK, so this is media availability?’ If you don’t have a f—ing question, leave, because it’s an incredible invasion of privacy. It’s a tremendous commitment that we’ve made to the media — are there ways we can tone it down? Of course. It’s very dangerous to suggest any limitation on media’s access to players, but let’s be real about some of this stuff.

“I’ve asked about a couple of these guys, ‘Does he ask you a question?’ ‘Nah, he just stands there.’ And when I go in there to talk to the guys, I see them trying to listen to my conversation, and I don’t think that’s the point of media availability. If nothing else, I would like to have a rule imposed, ‘If you have a question, ask it; if you don’t, leave.’ Sometimes, they’re waiting for the marquee players. I get that, but there is so much standing around.”

Roberts subsequently toned down her comments in a follow-up interview with Sarah Kogod of SB Nation. Kogod actually tried to school Roberts about how watching players interact in the locker room is part of the reporting process.

“(Hearing) from you and your explanation for what the motives might be and how it does, in fact, enhance your ability to do your job is very helpful,” Roberts said.

However, it is a safe bet that the vast majority of Roberts’ players never saw the SB Nation story. They still were applauding her initial comments about those idiot reporters clogging up their personal space in the locker room.

If you’re in sports media, it is extremely troubling to hear someone in Roberts’ position take such an extreme stand about coverage and access. It validates many of the complaints and misperceptions athletes have in dealing with reporters. If the leader of the Players Association says it’s stupid, why would the players think otherwise?

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