“It’s fascinating,” [the agent] said, having watched enough of the aftermath of Ray Rice’s left cross to his fiancée’s chin to feel validated in his cynical view of how information is disseminated to football fans from up high. “It shows you’ve got this small group of influential commentators and writers making more money then they ever dreamed of, living a lifestyle they never dreamed of, and they don’t wanna upset the applecart.”
As the agent and many others see it, the Rice fiasco has been a clarifying moment for the top tier of NFL beat reporting, which today looks like nothing so much as a well-appointed kennel for obedient lapdogs. Because access is the coin of the realm in a media age that demands an ever-replenishing supply of what one NFL beat guy called “nuggets”— Green Bay-Seattle will kick off the season!—the star reporters to one extent or another all belong to the league. “I’m not in bed with the league,” said the reporter. “Sometimes I wish I was because a) there’s a lot more money it and b) if you’re going to be in bed with anybody, it should be the people in the league office.”
The chosen few disseminators of football intelligence are multimedia stars today, with gigs in print and online and on TV and radio, and with huge Twitter presences—Schefter, King, and Mort have a combined six million followers. The NFL need only filter the message of a very few folks to shape the entire national discussion.
This reflects back on those media stars, for whom the rewards go well past money. One NFL reporter told me that among the most striking scenes he witnessed while attending various training camps this summer was Schefter “getting hounded for autographs as much as the quarterback.” Why wouldn’t those not in the NFL’s influencer club aspire to be?
Exactly what I was saying last week— upset the status quo, lose access and by extension, money.