Can local media have a negative impact on sports?

August 11, 2010 |

I was recently watching one of those “greatest moments in history” movies with regard to the Washington Redskins. Naturally a big part of the film was dedicated to George Allen, and his over the hill gang in the 1970’s. As we all know, due in large part to Coach Allen and some of his antics, the Redskins’ biggest rival became the Dallas Cowboys. (Come to think of it, the Cowboys are one of those teams similar to the Yankees where you either love them or hate them; nobody’s just indifferent towards them.) Many years later, the  Redskins and Cowboys of that era met for a charity touch football game at Dallas’ Texas Stadium. Each side was coached by it’s respective leader; Allen, and Tom Landry of the Cowboys. During the game, George Allen jokingly commented “…can you imagine signing autographs before the ballgame?…now that’s what I call a distraction!”

In this age of big media, it seems that more and more outlets are starting to infringe upon the playing field immediately in the wake of, or even in some cases during sporting events. For both Oriole telecasts and those of the Washington Nationals, MASN features a “wired Wednesday,” where they actually interview the manager during the game from the dugout. In 2009, we’d see Dave Trembley giving in-game signs on numerous occasions during these interviews, and I would suspect that Manny Acta/Jim Riggleman did the same. MASN is far from alone in doing this sort of thing, as ESPN interviews both managers in-game on their Sunday Night Baseball telecast. In my opinion this trend started approximately ten years ago (give or take) when Monday Night Football, which was on ABC at the time, started having their sideline reporter interview one of the two coaches literally in the moments just preceding kickoff. Last time I checked, kickoff of an NFL game is sort of an important moment for a football coach, and odds are that most coaches weren’t happy with having to speak live on-air with a reporter at such an important juncture.

I watch almost every Oriole game, and contrary to some I firmly believe that MASN does a superior job in covering the team. I also think that it’s interesting to hear coaches’ perspectives during games. However I would hope that most fans would rather not hear the coach’s opinion at that moment if it was detrimental to the team. The other side of the coin is that the players and coaches play the games for the fans, and that the least they can do is to be open about things, even during the games. Be that as it may, does anyone not think that other teams didn’t watch some of those telecasts and catch onto Trembley’s signs at times?

I’m not blaming MASN for this, and as I said I think it’s interesting to hear their opinions while the games are going on. (Furthermore I highly doubt that MASN’s the only network that televises a major league baseball team that has a manager on live during the games.) The same can be said for ESPN; I don’t blame them for trying to make the “on-air product” better for the fans. However if it takes away from that coach’s concentration even for a moment, perhaps it shouldn’t be done. The networks are trying to maximize the viewing experience for the fans; however I think that ultimately the fans would rather the manager/coach concentrate on coaching the game in that moment rather than giving interviews.

So when exactly is it acceptable for the media to “infringe” upon the players and coaches? I suppose that I would say anytime that doesn’t affect the players or coaches preparing or playing the games. As an example, Johnny Holiday has interviewed Gary Williams in the moments immediately following each Maryland Terrapin basketball game for years. I don’t see a problem with that, because the game itself is over (win or lose). However coaches’ post-game press conferences have always served as manners by which they can explain themselves or their teams. NFL coaches are legendary for their post-game pressers, most of which are covered live on local television and radio. Baseball managers have started doing the same thing; I’ve spent many afternoons and evenings driving home from Camden Yards listening to Oriole managers giving their post-game pressers.

I don’t think that these kinds of things necessarily affect games, but I suppose that they could. Could anyone imagine Vince Lombardi or John Wodden subjecting themselves to interviews during the games? Again, I highly doubt that MASN and ESPN are the only networks that pull stunts like this. I would suspect that YES requires Joe Girardi to do something along these lines, and the same with NESN and Terry Francona. However as I said, I would hope that fans would accept this kind of media coverage going by the wayside if it meant a better effort on the field. Last week would have been Buck Showalter’s first “wired Wednesday” as the Orioles’ manager. (And if there’s anyone that understands media access, it would be a guy like Showalter who worked for ESPN for many years.) Gary Thorne taped the interview well before the game; I’m not sure if that was Showalter saying that he wouldn’t give interviews during games, or because he was new. One way or the other, if networks want to hear from coaches during games, that’s how it should be done (pre-recorded). George Allen seemed to indicate with his commentary that any media contact during the game is nothing more than a distraction. I would tend to agree.