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McGair: Talking heads shouldn’t judge what’s behind closed doors

May 8, 2013

This article is solely the opinion of sports writer Brendan McGair.

A little of this, a little of that …

There are some sports writers and columnists who believe that one of the job’s requisites is to put themselves in the shoes of a professional athlete. It’s as if the power of the pen and computer grants these gatekeepers of the locker room the ability to read millionaire’s minds or to step inside their bodies.
And that’s when the real trouble ensues.

Media personnel like to fancy themselves as experts of the beat they are assigned to, but really aren’t, unless they’ve suited up and played the game themselves. Their primary goal is to net enough material to satisfy the day’s work requirements. They listen to what coaches and players say on a given subject before deciding how to go about crafting a story that properly captures the team’s mood.

Sounds pretty straightforward, doesn’t it? The media is spoon-fed information, which is then distributed via blog or Twitter. Rinse and repeat, but always make sure the point being conveyed is 140 characters or less.

There are those in the media biz who feel that it’s their duty to venture beyond the meat and potatoes that are served up and fan the flames of controversy. Specifically, they like to pull out the “soft” card and throw it in the middle of the table when they see a situation where athlete has more Charmin than Iron Man qualities.

Athletes who go 0-for-4 with three strikeouts and leave runners on base are fair game for criticism. But when those same athletes miss time due to injuries, they shouldn’t have their names dragged through the mud as if they’re letting their teammates and fan base down.

Other than the athlete, and the team doctors and training staff, no one is in a position to make judgments on what’s taking place behind closed doors. Guesswork on injuries is a downright messy business and a practice that potentially puts even more distance between athletes and those who cover them.

Unless a media member is privileged enough to obtain actual facts – too often injury information comes from an anonymous source who prefers to go by the alias “John Doe” rather than his or her actual name – it’s best to let sleeping dogs lie. No room for speculation at this time.

There are a couple of reasons why this corner has been itching to say something on this subject matter. Somehow, the Chicago Bulls advanced to the second round of the NBA playoffs against LeBron James & Co. despite not having the services of star point guard Derrick Rose, who has come under a wave of criticism for sitting out the entire season with a knee injury that was sustained one year ago.

The drumbeat of Rose letting down his teammates by not at least giving it the old college try only grows louder now that Chicago is involved in a high-stakes showdown with Miami. Those same people who are quick to pass judgment on Rose have probably never rehabbed from a torn ACL.

Paraphrasing from former NFL coach Jim Mora, the media doesn’t know “diddly poo” about Rose’s condition. To question his commitment seems more grist for the mill than actual reporting. If Rose comes back this round, great. If he doesn’t and the Bulls end up falling to the Heat, chalk it up to the fact that injuries are part of sports.
***
The situation involving Rose is eerily similar to the fallout Boston outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury had to deal with after fracturing his ribs during the 2010 season. It wasn’t just that Ellsbury got hurt. It was that he had to go out of his way to defend why his recuperation time lasted longer than expected.

Last time I checked, the media’s qualifications stem from undergraduate degrees in journalism, English, history or political science. You will be hard-pressed to find a doctor or a psychologist in your press-box travels. But that doesn’t prevent some from circling around an injured athlete like a bird of prey looking for its next victim.
***
Speaking of psychology, some grabbed hold of the theory that the reason why PawSox shortstop Jose Iglesias wasn’t in the lineup for the three straight days was the result of disciplinary measures taken by the parent club. Those same folks who chose to wave the accusatory finger haven’t set foot inside McCoy Stadium this season or talked to manager Gary DiSarcina.

All DiSarcina said regarding Iglesias’ absence was “manager’s decision.” In eyes of some, the answer was less than forthcoming, thus the reaction to throw mud against the wall and paint a picture that dramatizes the matter. Just like that, Iglesias is viewed as a problematic sort in need of a reality check.

Whatever happened to taking what is said from a reliable source and stamping “case closed” on the topic? The notion of reporters digging deeper is all well and good so long as it doesn’t come at the expense of launching an undeserved assault on an athlete’s reputation.

Alas, such a course of action is pure fantasy, hence no wonder that players and coaches view the media with so much skepticism.

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