Richard Deitsch of Sports Illustrated held a media roundtable of baseball reporters to talk about the issues which go into their jobs and which affects the coverage you and I read. It’s fascinating, and it’s not all just insider media stuff. It covers topics which touch on the game and our understanding of it as well.
The reporters are all good ones: Shi Davidi or Sportsnet, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Jeff Passan of Yahoo, Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle, Jayson Stark of ESPN, Marly Rivera of ESPN Deportes and Ken Rosenthal of Fox. The topics: media access to the clubhouse, who the most difficult interviews and personalities are, what stories are most underreported and whether players and coaches lie to reporters and what the reporters do about it when it happens.
The most interesting topic for me — and one all of the reporters talk about at length — is the language barrier and how it impacts coverage and perception of Latin American players. It’s a way bigger thing than most people realize, I suspect. Certainly one I didn’t really appreciate until I started going into clubhouses and thinking, “man, I don’t know if I should ask that player this question because he may not speak English well and I certainly don’t speak Spanish and that may make talking about this subject difficult or, at the very least, awkward.” All of the reporters in the roundtable note that this is a pretty significant issue.
The issue manifests itself in a lot of ways we don’t always think about. In the past — the more recent past that many might admit — the communication barriers with Latin players led some reporters and columnists to label them as “aloof” or “surly” or “uncooperative” when they really were just guarded and self-conscious over communicating in their second language. In some cases reporters wouldn’t talk to them at all and, human nature being what it is, it’s always way easier to project views onto a guy or to mischaracterize someone with whom we don’t interact all that much.
That’s nowhere near as big an issue now as it was (go read a book about Roberto Clemente to get some insight into this) but there are still consequences to our press corps consisting primarily of English-only speakers and clubs not having dedicated translators. In that environment, we’re simply less likely to get a Spanish-speaking ballplayer’s view on a given topic than an American ballplayer’s view. We don’t always realize that we’re not getting his view, however, and as a result American players are, consciously or not, setting the parameters of discussion and debate. Their opinions and insights are considered the norms against which everyone else is measured, which in turn affects how we perceive Spanish-speaking players’ behavior.
This was a really good discussion, on that count and on the others. It’s nice to get the candid views of people who bring us the game from the inside.