Everybody knows that sports media access is not going to be the same in a COVID-19 world.
Even going back to March 11th, before everything was shut down, we were barred from the Sixers’ locker room area and denied pregame player access.
Of course it made sense at the time. Nobody knew how bad this was going to become, and the most simple precaution was to limit non-essential personnel, which is what we are. Sports writers do not perform an essential function, and if the games are played without us, fans are still entertained and money is still made. The world keeps turning.
In a seemingly natural continuation of that thinking, the NFL is restricting what reporters are able to do this summer:
Media access to 2020 NFL training camp and preseason also will look a lot different — most notable, no in-person interviews with players will be permitted until further notice. pic.twitter.com/3po9SFQZHa
— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) July 4, 2020
Most of Pelissero’s information is correct, but he was slightly off on a couple of things.
For clarification, the Pro Football Writers of America sent out a memo to members explaining that 10 people will have access to the media facility, not four. Additionally, 30 people can be outside watching practice, which is a mix of media, scouts, security, and medical personnel.
Anonymously, a local media member told me this about NFL protocols:
“The only way this won’t become a massive cluster in a major market is if there is a rotation for tier 2. Also, the idea of having multiple personnel from outlets before every outlet has representation would be an absolute farce. No one can predict or control the Coronavirus, but teams can determine a fair way to distribute credentials.”
Agree with that, and it’s important that every credentialed outlet gets a bite of the apple before the Philadelphia Inquirer is able to send three reporters and four columnists to practice. It would be unfair for the local paper to get seven people down there before FOX 29 is allowed to send one or two, as an example.
My main takeaway from all of this is that we will no longer have 700 Eagles reporters live tweeting every single pass, punt, kick, and fart that takes place at NovaCare in August:
“Wow, Carson Wentz looks great! He just hit Jalen Reagor on a 10-yard touchdown pass!”
None of that this year, though the restriction on in-person media interviews seems like a bit much, since there’s a lot of outdoor room at Novacare. The players and coaches typically walk up to a podium set up beneath a tent, and conduct media sessions from there, though with the vast interest the Eagles garner, there ends up being like 50 reporters and 10+ cameras all shoved into a tight area, which makes accommodation difficult in a COVID world. The locker room is too tight for players and media and after-practice scrums would have to be restricted as well, though they could certainly find a solution if they tried hard enough.
The main gripe from NFL media, in response to these rules, seems to be the strict limitation on what pool reporters can actually provide. If you’re not familiar with the term, a pool reporter basically functions as a extension of the group (i.e. pooling resources), where they will collect quotes or video clips and then share it with everybody else. It’s a little strange that they can’t blog, text, tweet, or report on what players are working at whatever position, which we typically use to help put together early-season depth charts. Fact of the matter is that we oftentimes laugh about the ridiculousness of Eagles training camp tweets while gobbling up the information anyway, and this is just non-COVID junk added on to neuter the journos.
John McMullen is a veteran on the Eagles beat and doesn’t do dumb ass hot takes. He’s a very even-keeled writer and I enjoyed these passages from a Philly Voice story he wrote about the topic:
“…under the cover of COVID, the league is trying to tack on some pork at the end of massive legislation to better control the dissemination of information.
Buried in the proposed media access protocol for training camps, leaked to NFL Media’s Tom Pelissero, is some very draconian restrictions on the reporters who will be given access to practices.”
The knee-jerk reaction on social media to me pointing out the awfulness of these restrictions was to pile on by claiming we are all selfish, entitled jerks who believe we should get unfettered access even if the era COVID-19 as if hanging around an NFL locker room for an hour waiting for a bunch of people who don’t want to talk to me on the best of days is on my top-100 hit list.
You might think that’s cool or believe we do. Well, it’s not and we don’t, but reporters — real reporters at least — take the gathering of information very seriously and this is not a serious policy.”
Agreed, and it remains to be seen if other leagues will implement similar media restrictions once the teams are operating on a somewhat normal schedule. A lot of what we do at CB is adaptable and we’ll find a way to get decent enough content out there, but outlets like The Athletic, which values a higher level of access for storytelling purposes, might have to make bigger adjustments.
We can talk all day about the necessity of sports media and what our role should be, but in a COVID world we should take a step back and ask ourselves if these rules are necessary from a health and safety perspective, or whether they’re a ridiculous overreach as a means to control information.