This, from Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail, is really about a hockey player. But it starts out with a long anecdote about Frank Thomas and his time with the Blue Jays.
The overall story is about how the personal relationships and respect of the athlete-reporter interaction work. And as far as that goes — athletes see reporters as annoying wallpaper, reporters see athletes as quote-providing commodities — it rings quite true, sadly enough. But the conclusion that is eventually reached bugs me. And that conclusion is basically: hey athlete, if you don’t want to be ripped in the press, you should probably get to know us reporters as human beings.
Which, while not troublesome on its face — while, indeed, it is quite understandable as a point of human nature — it is a conclusion which should bother folks a bit.
It’s bothersome because the primary example Kelly uses is Frank Thomas ingratiating himself with the Toronto media at first. An ingratiation which Kelly seems to have taken as disingenuous (and it may well have been). But it’s an ingratiation which ended up protecting Thomas from being ripped like the hockey player in the article is ripped. It’s a dynamic which seems to make the formation of some personal connection — even a phony one — the prerequisite for fair treatment from the press.
I understand that the media are human beings and that all human beings are likely to be more charitable to those we know — or at least think we know — than we are to strangers or, especially, people who are rude to us. That’s just part of our nature. But reporters also have a job which inherently asks them to offer a greater level of objectivity than the average human being. Even when writing opinions over mere facts, journalists are expected to put personal biases aside — or at least to be clear and up front about their biases — and treat their subjects fairly, even if they are engaging in critical commentary.
Kelly may be right that the easiest way to not get ripped by the press is to forge some sort of personal relationship with them. And I’m choosing to believe that this article is written from the perspective of someone lamenting a reality but acknowledging that it’s easier to pragmatically short circuit that reality rather than truly change it. But I hope it’s not crazy to say that athletes shouldn’t have to be friendly — fake or otherwise — with reporters in order to get fair coverage. Polite? Obviously. But friendly and ingratiating? I would hope not. Reporters should, on some very basic level, be able to treat everyone fairly. Even if they’re jerks on occasion.