Report: NFL “Expected to Keep Locker Rooms Closed” for Training Camp and Preseason

from Twitter (Nick Fierro)

As we exit the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the interesting sidebar topics is media access, and if we’re ever going to get it back. Right now, sports reporters continue to do press conferences via Zoom as in-person sessions remain largely closed off.

With arenas going back to 100% capacity and mask mandates being lifted, will media members regain locker room access?

RE: the NFL, not just yet, according to Ben Strauss and Mark Maske at The Washington Post:

The NFL is expected to keep its locker rooms closed to reporters when teams report to training camps and begin playing preseason games this summer, according to two people with knowledge of the discussions, a sign that restrictions placed on sports media during the coronavirus pandemic might stretch into the fall or beyond.

The NFL training camp protocols are probably a strong indication of what’s in store for the regular season scheduled to begin in September. That means that even as fans return to stadiums and as the country as a whole moves toward normalcy, NFL reporters probably will not be roaming locker rooms during the practice week and after games, as was custom before the pandemic.

The league is hopeful that vaccinated media members will have access to teams’ training facilities, practice fields and media workrooms and will be able to do some in-person interviews with players and coaches, according to a person familiar with the situation. Vaccinated reporters could conduct in-person interviews in a news conference setting or as part of a small, distanced group, perhaps as a player leaves the practice field or in a similar scenario.

This was always a media concern. We talked to a lot of people who thought that once the access was taken away (legitimately) during COVID-19, that the leagues would use this as leverage to keep reporters out of the locker room indefinitely.

In the past, I’ve argued that reporters don’t belong in the locker room in the first place, because I see it as a “sacred” place for game preparation. Athletes are half naked and/or getting changed or listening to music or going over the game plan while a projector screen runs film along the wall. Then you’ve got 50 reporters who come bumbling into the room to shove a mic in your face.

My solution was a trade. In exchange for closing the locker room, you have to give us this:

  1. A coach is required to do 15 minutes minimum at the podium, after every game.
  2. Two select players are then brought to the podium to answer questions.
  3. The remaining players must then exit the building through a mixed zone, where reporters are given open access to ask whatever they want. This prevents players from sneaking out early.
  4. Additionally, general managers must make themselves available to the media at least once per month.

It’s not less access, it’s just a different kind of access.

I know a lot of fans don’t necessarily give a shit about this, and most don’t have a high opinion of the media right now anyway, but access to players and coaches benefits everyone. You get answers to questions, you develop relationships with these guys, which influences original reporting and storytelling, and you create a healthy conduit from player to media to fan. No locker room access means nobody ever stumbles upon the Nick Foles shrine. Malcolm Jenkins doesn’t do the routine with holding up the social justice signs in front of the cameras. Things like that don’t take place.

Our jobs aren’t “essential,” and sport would certainly continue without the media, but it would be a lot less interesting, and there would be a lot less accountability to the paying customer.

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