Wednesday word: Fans should care more when athletes disrespect media

Senior forward Mark Segbers opened the scoring for UW in its 3-1 victory over Grand Canyon. 

Image By: Betsy Osterberger

In December 2016, Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman threatened to “ruin the career” of local radio host Jim Moore after he asked the 28-year-old about his conflict with the team’s offensive coordinator, Darrell Bevell.

While this incident flew largely under the radar in the national media landscape, it has been brought back to light after Sherman denied this incident on a recent ESPN interview. The denial of this incident—where the Seahawks' star also threatened to take Moore’s press pass away—has been viewed with confusion and contempt by sports journalists in Seattle.

Not only did Sherman publicly address the initial incident on Twitter in its aftermath, but the Seattle Times even has recorded audio of his threats to Moore. Unsurprisingly, local reporters (like the Times’ Matt Calkins) have had enough of Sherman’s lies, and are pushing back against the cornerback’s antics.

While examining this story at surface level reveals Sherman’s blatant penchant for dishonesty, his threats to Moore also represent a larger issue of which he is merely one of many perpetrators: pro athletes’ disrespect toward reporters.

For as long as I’ve watched sports, athlete-media controversy has always been prevalent and highly covered. Athletes like Floyd Mayweather, DeMarcus Cousins and Marshawn Lynch have received nearly as much attention for their negative media interactions as their on-field achievements, with these conflicts becoming part of their respective images, and sometimes even sources of amusement for fans.

While it’s not surprising to see athletes disrespecting the media after a poor individual performance or an agonizing loss, the level that society takes this treatment for granted is astounding to me.

Footage of athletes toying with the media’s questions or being disrespectful to reporters often spreads like wildfire via social media, and these events can gain viral status with the help of memes and GIFs.

Far less often, however, are these events looked at from a more critical, practical lens that considers the reporter’s job of asking tough questions, and the way a disrespectful athlete interferes with and degrades their work.

It’s worth noting that many athletes are nothing but cordial to the media, and that people threatening reporters such as Sherman are surely closer to the exception than the rule. However, these incidents are still prevalent enough for sports fans to accept them without question.

When you’re immersed in a slightly different environment, though, it’s far easier to see the issue with disrespectful athletes and question society’s tacit acceptance of them.

During my past two semesters at Wisconsin, I’ve covered softball and men’s soccer, and there genuinely wasn’t one time I experienced abuse or disrespect at the hands of student-athletes. In fact, the athletes involved in these non-revenue sports often viewed interviews as a thrill, and media relations officials were extremely accommodating in directing me to athletes.

While it’s not surprising to think that college athletes on non-revenue teams would be a little more humble and open than an athlete netting millions of dollars per year, that doesn’t make the difference between their perception of the media any less stark.

This past fall, when men’s soccer forward Mark Segbers was told by a team official I wanted to speak to him after a win, he yelled “Finally!” before scurrying away from his friends toward me. A pro athlete saying the same thing would probably be viewed as sarcastic.

I don’t expect every pro athlete to act as excited as Segbers did toward me, as comparing a college soccer player to a professional athlete is an uneven, misguided comparison.

As Segbers demonstrated, college athletes (especially ones on non-revenue teams) often enjoy receiving attention and reaping the exposure of an interview or a feature. Since most college athletes will not graduate to a higher level of athletics, I believe they see themselves as fairly regular people, and have a humbleness about them that translates to approachability and open interviews.

On the other hand, I believe pro athletes are covered almost automatically because of their high-profile, and often grow tired of answering questions, viewing media sessions as a chore.

I have no issue with a downcast athlete giving short, concise answers after a tough loss, or even hearing “no comment” after asking a potentially compromising question.

However, I do take issue with athletes like Sherman and Cousins threatening the media, and furthermore, sports fans laughing these incidents off and accepting them as normalcy.

Just as Sherman gets paid to cover opposing wide receivers and make interceptions, speaking to reporters in a respectful manner is also part of his job description.

So, I ask this: Why are we ignoring his shortcomings?

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