It’s hard not to notice the ongoing war on the media, with daily assaults aimed at discrediting the only profession explicitly protected in the Constitution.
The battle goes beyond attacking watchdog journalists keeping politicians and corporations in check as “fake news.” The trend of imposing media restrictions is becoming epidemic in the sports ranks as well, particularly in major college football programs.
The cumulative cost of social media bans, access limitations and outright silencing of certain players and coaches is a lack of exposure to fans eager for a diversion.
Some of it seems harmless enough. Clemson has for years banned its players from using social media from the start of preseason camp until the end of its final game – an effort designed to curtail distractions. As far as limiting free speech goes regarding young men trying to learn how to transition into being responsible adults, it’s a toe-in-the-water measure. If Dabo Swinney believes it makes the Tigers better, it seems a small price to pay.
Georgia and South Carolina beat writers, however, got larger tastes of restrictions last year when Nick Saban disciples Kirby Smart and Will Muschamp took over and implemented significant limitations of access to all freshman players and assistant coaches. The “one voice” policy is a disservice to fans who rely on the media to spread the word about their favorite teams.
We never got to hear from any Bulldogs’ quarterbacks after the first game of a what turned out to be a disappointing 8-5 season and offensive coordinator Jim Chaney never had to answer for himself until the bowl game. It’s hard to believe that Jacob Eason is responsible enough to start at the most important position for a Southeastern Conference team but can’t handle answering questions about his performance after a game. The same could be said for freshman QB starters Brandon McIlwain and Jake Bentley for the Gamecocks.
It’s not like nobody wants to hear from the guys who handle the ball on every offensive play. What can they possibly add to the conversation? If this policy catches on with basketball programs, we may never hear from another one-and-done Kentucky player ever again.
Now more control-freak coaches are finding more ways to limit access and information about their programs. Louisiana State coach Ed Orgeron – who once promised to “get (the media) out to practice more” as interim head coach at Southern Cal – banned the media from all preseason practices, the most restrictive policy in the SEC where most teams typically allow limited access to brief portions of practice. It’s the kind of paranoid policy that is more likely to generate more disinformation as reporters have to piece together what’s happening exclusively from second-hand sources.
On Thursday, first-year Texas coach Tom Herman issued a ban on reporters sending out any live social media updates during post-practice interview sessions. The tortured reasoning was priceless.
“Our hope is that you would take time to review your post and re-listen to the questions and answers in an effort to increase accuracy and insure the necessary context in each of your social media reports,” the Texas edict stated. “We hope this will not only allow everyone more time to craft those commentaries/reports, but also allow necessary time to absorb full context. It also will be beneficial in providing full attention to follow-up questions or the next line of questioning during the actual interviews.”
So now coaches are adding editorial assistance to their job description? You’d think Herman has enough to worry about rebuilding the Longhorn brand than policing tweets from seasoned Austin American-Statesman and Dallas Morning News reporters.
More and more, coaches are trying to “control the narrative” and inhibit responsible criticism. It makes you wonder what these programs are hiding, just as we did last year when Georgia’s legislature passed the nation’s most restrictive Freedom of Information Act response policy in the final moments of its session just after Smart had visited the state capitol.
All this does is create a sense of conflict with media that spends the bulk of its time providing free exposure to revenue-generating programs and the players who more often than not crave the greatest amount of attention they’ll ever receive in their lives. The vast majority of reporting on college teams is positive. The ones concerned about negative press are generally the programs that need independent accountability review (we’re looking at you Ole Miss and Hugh Freeze).
It’s popular to pile on the press these days despite its vital role in protecting our democracy. Sports may pale in importance to what’s going on in places of real power with real consequences, but it all adds to a growing dissatisfaction with one of the most important institutions in America.
The coaches who often preach about dealing with adversity aren’t doing anybody any favors by sheltering their players and fans from transparent review. Colleges are supposed to be about educating players to handle the real world, and dealing with the media is a useful tool in learning social skills, interview tactics and responsibility that will serve them well in whatever they pursue beyond college.
Shutting out the media and trying to manipulate the message is a bad example for everyone.