Derek Jeter alluded to this in that feature of him in New York Magazine last week. And now here it is: “The Players’ Tribune.” It’s Jeter’s athlete publishing portal where he plans to give a space for jocks to say what they want without going through the “filter” of the media. He explains the impulse:
I realize I’ve been guarded. I learned early on in New York, the toughest media environment in sports, that just because a reporter asks you a question doesn’t mean you have to answer. I attribute much of my success in New York to my ability to understand and avoid unnecessary distractions.
Those simple answers have always stemmed from a genuine concern that any statement, any opinion or detail, might be distorted. I have a unique perspective. Many of you saw me after that final home game, when the enormity of the moment hit me. I’m not a robot. Neither are the other athletes who at times might seem unapproachable. We all have emotions. We just need to be sure our thoughts will come across the way we intend.
So I’m in the process of building a place where athletes have the tools they need to share what they really think and feel. We want to have a way to connect directly with our fans, with no filter.
Which could be cool. At least until you realize that the “tools” very likely include publicists and promotional people who are going to attempt to do for pro athletes what Jeter has been quite deft at doing for himself over the past 20 years: avoiding controversy and, either actively or passively, promoting themselves, the products they endorse and the various interests they represent. Jeter may not like the media “filter” but the alternative “filter” that will be applied over the sentiments of his athlete/authors is going to be far, far more robust than he’s claiming here. Of that there can be no doubt.
Not that there isn’t a place for it. As I’ve noted many, many times over the years, there is a trend towards newsmakers breaking their own news. Teams announcing things directly as opposed to going through the media. This is a logical extension of that for athletes. Why issue a press release or seek out one friendly member of the press when you have something you want to say, announce or promote when you can reach people directly? It makes a lot of sense, actually.
But what it will not do is provide fans with any candid insight into these players’ lives. At least not insight that the player doesn’t specifically want to provide. Yes, the media can and often does distort what an athlete has to say and that’s crappy. But good reporters who are straight-up with their subjects have often been nonetheless able to give us a look behind the stage-managing and the spin of publicists and P.R. people and tell us something important or interesting about the subjects they cover. To reveal the human side of athletes, their fears, their foibles and what makes them tick, often in ways the athletes themselves are either unable or unwilling to articulate or, often, may not even know.
I hope Jeter’s website is more than just a safe place for athletes to tell us about their dogs, their charity work and the way in which they plan to really, really change the fashion business. But I’m not at all confident we’ll get that. Derek Jeter learned that the way to become a Golden God in sports is to reveal little if anything about his personal life or to let people in to his personal life.
Do you honestly think that his pitch to his contributors will be “that ‘say nothing’ approach I took the past 20 years? Yeah. I want to totally move away from that now and GET RAW,” or do you think his pitch is “You see how slick I am? I can make YOU that slick too.”
I’d bet an awful lot on the latter.