I Really Hate It When…

Is there such a thing as a journalistic code of ethics in sports? If not, when and why did it disappear?

Does anyone share my irritation when the sports media uses “sources close to”… or “sources with knowledge of”… as their way to substantiate information used in a report or column? To be honest, if you won’t name the source, then you’re report simply amounts to here-say. 

…and if you’re a source willing to give information, go on the record.  If you won’t go on the record…again, how can you be considered a credible source?

I know, this is only sports, grown men playing kids games, not the Watergate Scandal and it’s confidential informant Deep Throat. That kind of journalism brought down a President and earned a Pulitzer Prize for The The Washington Post. Much of today’s sports commentary is just not that important. And if an important event occurs, whether an actual sporting event or something in an athlete’s personal life, be it legal or illegal, just about any caller can get on the air and present him or herself as an expert, someone with inside knowledge, someone with a phone, someone given the use of public airwaves to say just about whatever they want. Mostly unsubstantiated. Not vetted. Just like information we get from some members of the media.

Consider the 2014 release of the Eagles DeSean Jackson. The original NJ.com report quoted only “sources within the organization” regarding Jackson’s ties to 2 Los Angeles gang members. The story also quoted the “infamous” source within the organization saying the team was concerned about Jackson’s influence on younger players.

Meanwhile, Derrick Gunn from Comcast Sports Net broke this story wide-open with information from his well-founded sources:

“I talked to someone (?) this morning that basically said that when a player is one of your highest paid players in the Eagles’ organization, especially with the new culture and the new attitude, the new direction they’re trying to build now in Chip Kelly’s regime,” Gunn said, “they expect you to hold yourself to a certain standard both in the locker room and outside the locker room as well.” 

You could almost see Chip Kelly’s hand in D. Gunn’s back manipulating his mouth. 

“And there’s a lot of stuff (really, someone and stuff?) that probably hasn’t even come out about DeSean yet (and it never did) that we’re going to find out in the days, weeks, months and even a year from now that we’re going to learn about, but he was not the kind of player in the locker room that the Eagles wanted to have an influence on the younger players.” and…“I was told by a couple of sources that he did not have the best work ethic in the locker room.

So D. Gunn, gives us “someone?”,”a lot of stuff?” and “couple of sources?” See any Pulitzer Prize winning journalism there? I realize that DeSean Jackson getting cut is an old story, but this story says more about the not so ethical environment that exists in the world of sports talk radio, internet reporting, and even TV news and talk shows. And let’s not be naive, sports teams use these guys all the time to advance their own agenda. And the media knows it, sometimes they have to walk a thin line between what information the team wants released versus the opportunity for future stories.

Remember all of those book reports and term papers we did in school? If we wrote that something was a fact, we had to list the source of that information, be it encyclopedia, newspaper article or some other source. “A lot of stuff” wouldn’t have been accepted as fact, and “unnamed source” wouldn’t fly as a reference. When did members of the media decide that this fundamental rule no longer pertained to their reporting?

I know, I can hear the battle cry now, ” We have to protect our source. If sources can’t remain anonymous then we won’t be able to get the information needed for the article. After all dear reader (or listener), it’s all to keep you better informed.” I have a different theory. How about the lack of naming a source comes down to a couple of simple factors…

…the unwillingness of the reporter to keep digging for a credible source who will go on the record and the competition between news agencies to….get it first!

Honestly, I can’t see how it matters who got a story first with the way the the news is reported, especially in the case of sports, where stories are hashed and re-hashed by multiple hosts over and over again on multiple media outlets for days and weeks at a time.  After beating a story like a rented mule for a day or two, most fans don’t remember or care who got the story first. And if you listen to multiple stations as I do, often times you can recognize the same caller on those stations voicing the same ideal or opinion. Over and over and over…To be honest, it must be difficult for some sports talk hosts to show up for work everyday given the repetitive nature of their industry.

So in the true spirit of some of today’s media employees…

“Unnamed sources with first-hand knowledge of the decision, say the Sixers are considering trading this year’s first pick in the draft Ben Simmons, to the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Cavaliers 2017 and 2018 first round picks. Someone said he believes the Sixers need more assets if they are going to make a run at the 2022 playoffs. The source also said Sixers coach Brett Brown couldn’t be happier and is excited about starting the 2016 season with the same team that finished last year.”

There, see how easy that was? I didn’t even get off the couch or call anyone. And if it doesn’t happen, I’ll just blame it on my source, that I can’t name. You heard it here first!

Like many sports fans I listen to sports talk radio during the course of my workday. I understand that interviews are a part of the job, but isn’t it somewhat disingenuous for a host to call for the dismissal of a team’s general manager or openly criticize an athlete’s play (pick a player, any sport) then fail to bring up those criticisms when interviewing that front office person or athlete? Consider the end of Phillies G.M. Ruben Amaro’s tenure with the team. Talk show hosts openly called for his immediate dismissal daily, then complimented him on his “honesty and his availability to the fans”. A typical interview might consist of a question or two about what to do with Ryan Howard, the teams current home stand or road trip, and maybe a hot prospect in Reading or Lehigh Valley. In other words, largely vanilla and lacking any controversy, and filled with clichés like, “one game at a time”, ” I can’t say enough about him”, or “he always gives 110%.”

Some members of the media bill themselves as the voice of the fans…and I guess that’s true, however with that claim comes the requirements of objectivity, accuracy, fairness, and accountability. And adhering to those principles are where some members go off the rails.

Don’t be too hard on yourselves sports media, at least you’re not sensationalizing the weather like our local TV/radio stations or The Weather Channel.

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