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Couch: The Media Are Too F-ing Soft

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It started one morning when my cell woke me. The voice on the other end seemed a tad unhappy with my column.

“You have no f-ing ethics! You have no f-ing morals!’’ screamed the voice, only not with the cleaned-up version. It was a well-known Chicago sports figure, and I’ll just leave his name out of this. I was a columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times and had just written about him.

After 15 minutes of hearing f-bombs, I finally heard him ask for my opinion on the matter. When I started to answer, he dropped another f-bomb and started screaming and ranting again, so I yelled one back at him with a “you’’ on the end and hung up.

Within five minutes, my boss called and said this sports person had called him. “Did you say f-you to him and hang up?’’

Yes, I did.

“Well,’’ my boss said, “you gained a lot of respect from him for that.’’

I bring this story up to demonstrate the strange relationship between sportswriters and sports figures. It’s been in the news lately. And the media have lost their way, partly by being too soft, praying to God that maybe they could be friends with the athletes, who they see as the cool kids, and partly by. . .No, that’s all. Just by being too soft. 

But in the past few weeks, basketball player Kyrie Irving has said he isn’t going to waste his delicate time as an artist talking with “pawns,’’ meaning sports writers. Curt Schilling, left out of the Baseball Hall of Fame by sports writers who judged that he’s a good pitcher but a bad human being, said they had no place judging him because they don’t know anything about baseball. And even Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski went viral over his testy exchange with a student reporter.

The criticism of Krzyzewski was so harsh on social media that he ended up calling the kid later to apologize.

Here’s what happened: Duke had just lost. The student reporter asked Krzyzewski, “I was just curious what the next step forward is . . .’’

Krzyzewski:  “Yeah, why don’t we just evaluate this game. You know, I’m not into what our next step forward is right now. We just finished a hard-fought game.’’

He asked the kid what his major or toughest class is. Answer: Econ.

“OK, so, say you just had the toughest Econ test in the world,” Krzyzewski said. “And when you walked out, somebody asked you, ‘What’s your next step?’ You see what I mean? Just that you have some empathy in — just give us time to evaluate this game and then we’ll figure out, just like we always try to do.’’

And the Internet blew up on behalf of the kid. I learned right then that social media is a snowflake, and that’s not going to help get the respect of sports figures. At what point did we become so sensitive that a harmless minimal moment required national condemnation?

I’ve had multiple stalkers and death threats during my career as a sportswriter. Someone threatened to burn down my house. Someone said he was going to rip my ears off. You hear interesting things as a sportswriter, assuming you have your ears.

Asking me to show a little empathy — and then answering my question, as Krzyzewski did in this case — does not seem bad. A little condescending, but whatever. 

ESPN’s Dan Dakich, former longtime college basketball coach, said on Twitter that it makes zero sense for a coach or player after games of hard work to have to explain himself to a group that literally has no clue about any of it. He said, “Make no mistake. Coach K and all coaches aren’t paid to handle questions . . . They are paid to win.’’

Now, that’s more like it. Dakich is acting in the aggressive, bullying coach/media way that I’m used to. 

Krzyzewski is also paid to make Duke look good. But when a 70-something legend picks on and talks down to a kid at the school he represents and it goes viral, well, that’s a bad look for a school, especially a snobby one like Duke.

And when Irving said he was too important to talk with sportswriters, who were interfering with the safe space he needs to perform the art of basketball, Charles Barkley didn’t understand.

“They don’t pay you $40 million just to play basketball . . .’’ he said. “Being with the media is part of your professional obligation.’’

Obligation? Irving is making the point that he’s above reporters. He’s the king, and they are pawns. It’s the same point Schilling was making. And while I felt Krzyzewski was plenty polite after the heat of a loss, it’s really his point, too.

They don’t respect reporters. On that front, they are right. I’m not 100 percent sure why these guys talk with us at all. I’m guessing it’s because the more they get their product out into the sports discussion, the more tickets they sell.

The lesson today’s sportswriters don’t get is this: Taking snarky potshots from afar doesn’t build respect. Kissing up to athletes doesn’t make them respect you either. If you let a bully keep bullying you, he’s just going to do it more and more.

Schilling is right that reporters are too much of the story in the Hall of Fame. They shouldn’t be voting at all. But if he thinks players will be unbiased when voting for their friends, well, good luck, Curt. Give the baseball writers one thing: Schilling keeps whining every year and posts on Twitter suggestions that writers should all be lynched. And then the writers keep voting against him.

Schilling has asked to be taken off the ballot next year. And you know what the baseball writers have done?

They’ve said he’s staying on the ballot. He’s on the batting tee, and they want one more swing at him. This is a battle with no final round.

That’s a hell of an f-you.

Written by Greg Couch

Greg earned the 2007 Peter Lisagor Award as the best sports columnist in the Chicagoland area for his work with the Chicago Sun-Times, where he started as a college football writer in 1997 before becoming a general columnist in 2003. He also won a Lisagor in 2016 for his commentary in RollingStone.com and The Guardian.

Couch penned articles and columns for CNN.com/Bleacher Report, AOL Fanhouse, and The Sporting News and contributed as a writer and on-air analyst for FoxSports.com and Fox Sports 1 TV. In his journalistic roles, Couch has covered the grandest stages of tennis from Wimbledon to the Olympics, among numerous national and international sporting spectacles. He also won first place awards from the U.S. Tennis Writers Association for his event coverage and column writing on the sport in 2010.

14 Comments

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    • seriously ^

      Greg Couch says: “I’m not 100% sure why they talk to the media at all.” SHAQ ANSWERED IT. It is written into the contract. They are obligated to. Not one athlete with give these schmucks the time of day if they weren’t.

      All the bootlicking media wants is clicks. That’s it. Hoping that an athletes says something dumb…then feigning shock while smiling on the inside that the now have ‘content’ to write about.

  1. I think what triggers entertainers is when journalist either ask stupid questions or the same question over and over hoping for a different answer. I’m not saying that all entertainers and their answers are justifiable, some are just plain assholes, but there are just as many journalists that are assholes. It’s not so hard to answer questions after a win, a good concert or a successful movie, but to have to answer stupid questions right after a tough loss, that’s got to be frustrating. It’s like watching the nightly news and seeing a reporter putting a microphone in the face of a person who just lost a loved one in a tragic accident, “How do you feel”? It’s infuriating to see that.

  2. Part of the reason my interest in sports is waning is because there are no more characters in the game or who cover it that are interesting. A sulking Kylie Irving doesn’t interest me. Tom Brady goes out of his way to be plain and boring. I’ll give credit to Barkley, at least he challenges these players. But for the most part, the days of Ali/Cosell are long gone. The media all sound the same to me, which is why coming to a site like this is refreshing.

  3. I’m a fan of athletes and coaches that practice what they preach as an athlete or coach.

    schilling does this.

    coach K does not it seems. i love Duke and coach K has been great, but in these times he should be willing to be bigger than his sports legacy.

    i see heros of mine backing down left and right.

    i see football legends afraid to say Redskins.

    i see basketball coaches afraid to call the summer riots as R I O T S!

    i see major media critics criticizing the criticisms as ‘inappropriate’ dissent rather than articulate opposition to another’s criticisms. (say that sentence out loud and fast)

    Today i heard John Fienstein do a Don Chaney Washington Post Obituary, that left out all of chaney’s bad behavior.
    why?

    we know why and its killing truth in America!

  4. We have built a very delicate generation or tow of “writers” and citizens. They are weaklings, and when weaklings are in the majority, they are bullies. It will not end well because what these folks don’t get is that the US is in a global competition and these weaklings will lose.

    So, prepare yourself as best you can and avoid the outraged weaklings.

  5. I haven’t watched PTI in a long time because Wilbon would never criticize a black coach or black athlete, especially basketball players. Unless, of course, that black player was basically a nobody. He’s buddies with many of the NBA players so, in my opinion, he’s illegitimate as a writer and commentator. His opinions are prejudicial. But then again, Wilbon is a stone cold racist.

  6. Many have said true journalism died many years ago. Woke and politics have been the catalysts. Look at the fawning White House Press Corp and MSM during eight years of Obama and then compare their constant antagonism during the past four years. As of January 20 the fawning is back. The Schilling story is a prime example of how politics are screwing with sports. Woke, liberal sports writers have said FU to Schilling because he openly supported Bush back in 2004 and Trump since 2016. Look at the NFL ratings after the kneeling started and the NBA ratings after going all in with BLM. Most of us just want to watch sports and not get hit in the face with political BS. Truth has taken a back seat to those trying to “outwoke” one another.

  7. I agree, 99% of the media are a bunch of f*cking pussies. If you can stomach watching CNN or ESPN for 30 minutes, you will notice that the “journalists” (excluding former pro athletes) are the biggest bunch of beta males soy boys you have ever seen in your life.

  8. Journalists and athletes have always had a symbiosis – the father of baseball, Henry Chadwick, was a sportswriter. Coach Walter Camp, the father of football, wrote hundreds of articles and dozens of books to promote the game, along with his creation of the all-Americans…

    Coach K has at best a junior professors salary and profile without the coverage and media apparatus that promotes him.

    That’s the condescending lecture that should’ve been the response to his. They need each other.

    As for Schilling, that he is a casualty of the culture war is a sad comment on the writers having allowed sports to become another front in that conflict. The writers will suffer for it – and already are – as millions abandon the NBA and its sycophants. Unfortunately Shaughnessy and his type are too petty and self centered to see how shortsighted they’re being.

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