I guess the question could be asked of all professional athletes, which is the same question being bantered around the National Football League media desks, thanks to the league’s recent scandals: is it a right or a privilege to play in the league?
From covering the National Hockey League for over 12 years, yes, there are exceptional individuals, just like in any other circle or profession. There are probably more good guys than jerks. I can name the All Star jerks on one hand, and they’re not all players.

What is sometimes clear, even with the good guys, is there is an inherent disconnect as to what the media’s role is and why they congregate in the bowls of the arenas and stadiums, waiting for the illusive clip to add to their stories. The media essentially markets teams, leagues, and players to the fans through exposure, and in essence, that exposure is what enables the fans to care (or not) and let the athletes keep their jobs as people continue to buy tickets and support them.

The media is really the voice for the fans. They get inside access to players and staff and see what is really going on behind the scenes. Of course, they can’t always write about everything they see or hear or they may not be allowed back inside the venue. Every reporter uses their own discretion as to what they, or rather their editors and producers, deem a story.

Whether or not one agrees with the message, the media basically takes what happens in the room and on the ice and writes the story. They’ll use different angles to try and get a fresh perspective, but overall, they can only report what they see or their impression of what is happening. It’s the only way the fan can know what’s going on.
Although, it’s not always possible to get the true story. Cones of silence permeate some teams, thus this is how rumors and speculation stem as a result. Getting even a one-sentence answer out some players is like physically pushing a Hummer out of a parking stall singlehandedly when you weigh 110 pounds.

Every reporter in every news organization receives, on average, 150 press releases a day from companies and individuals who want them to do a story about their business, event, or what they’re doing. Getting media attention — good or bad — is great advertising, for free. However, with the good, does comes the bad. You can’t pick and choose. It’s why so many firms hire public relations staff.

Usually, when bad press permeates for, say, a week, after a month or so, the general population forgets. Especially in business. You may forget what XYZ company did, but you remember reading about them somewhere. It’s not alway a bad thing. (That may not be the case for Falcons quarterback Michael Vick, but see Baltimore’s Ray Lewis as an example.)

Bad media can sometimes expose the true character of an individual. Remember Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson’s steroid scandal years back. If he would have owned up at the very beginning, the story might not have gotten so out of control. Anyone who faces the music up front, admits their mistake, and promises restitution will usually garner both the public’s and the media’s respect. We all like to see someone rise from adversity.

There are some media who sensationalize and angle a story to put a player or team in a bad light intentionally (thus they may also believe having a media job is a right, not a privilege). However, if every media decided to boycott a team or a league and there was absolutely no press coverage, you can be sure the attitude of disdain would change in a hurry.

Post-NHL lockout, I’d have to say, given the overall “warmth” towards media in some cases is that some players and team personnel are taught to believe that it’s a right to play or work in professional sports. However, if it were a right, 17,000 people sitting in every single arena would also be employed in the same profession. Translate the same scenario to other sports.

When those particular athletes finally realize it is a privilege is when they retire. Then they seem to want to be in the media.

© 2007 Debbie Elicksen, All Rights Reserved

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