Blue Bomber Report Record: 7–11–0

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Winning games is easier on everybody

Players' boycott of media member tied to team's record

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Almost as automatic as losses at McMahon Stadium over the last decade for this football team, a media boycott or two in the death throes of a miserable regular season is commonplace in any locker-room.

In case you haven't noticed it yet, athletes and the news agencies that cover them have a codependent, albeit tenuous, relationship.

When teams are winning and athletes are playing optimally, the media are viewed as poets, publicists and minstrels, singing the praises and extolling the virtues of immaculate performances and of all the actors involved.

When things are not going as well and despair and despondence cloud the air, the perception of the newsmakers changes from one of promoter to that of a hyena crossed with a turkey vulture, circling the locker-room, seeking out vulnerability and weakness and preying on the misfortunes of the moment.

It seems like just the other day when, mired in the slop of an unsatisfactory season, a player would take offence to an article and talk to Milt Stegall -- who is actually entrenched with the media on TSN now -- about it and we would band together in our own small, sad way to exact a measure of revenge by not talking to the offending party for as long as a couple of weeks or until we won a game, whichever came first. When victories are difficult to come by on the football field, some battles are easier fought against opponents in different and less relevant arenas.

The perspective that not enough professional athletes have these days, however, is that you have to stomach the sour along with the sweet when it comes to the media.

If you are going to puff your chest out and thump it while you crow to the masses about your performance and legendary status on days when the sun is shining and things are going your way, you had better not shirk and hide from the same spotlight when adversity rears its ugly head and your god complex fails you.

As you may have heard earlier this week, a boycott of a media member -- it wasn't his first rodeo, nor do I expect it to be his last -- was enacted by a number of players on the Blue Bombers. For the first time in my experiences with these silent treatments, I recognize both sides of the issue.

To catch you up, the problem arose from the interview Bombers GM Joe Mack did after the Labour Day Classic. When questioned as to his possible explanations behind the non-performance of his ball club in that particular game, he surmised there might still be a residual effect from the passing of a coach early in the 2011 season.

A number of reporters, more than just the boycotted one, took this quote to the players and asked them what they thought of it, without volunteering who they got it from.

In the shoes of the sports journalist, there is really no other way you can get an honest answer from a player in regards to an opinion, especially if it came from their superior.

For if the player knows the quote came from the general manager, head coach or anybody else that presides over them, they would in all likelihood toe the company line, invoke their self-preservation instincts and agree with their bosses. The only way to find out what an athlete really thinks and to get an unscripted answer is to ask the question without disclosing the context. The art of cutting through the BS is a degree you have to master in this business.

From the player side of things though, this is a clear-cut case of entrapment, hence the boycott that is still lingering.

Not many people in any line of work are going to be too happy about going on the record and inadvertently disagreeing with their superior in a public forum.

For example, let's say my sports editor decreed that for the rest of the season, no matter how the Bombers play, his crew is to write nothing but positive columns and reviews of the football team.

I decide I want to write a column about this new rule, so I interview Free Press sports columnist Gary Lawless, who didn't get the memo, and he tells me the idea is preposterous. So I quote him and put it in my story. When it came to print, I can't imagine he would be overly pleased that I didn't tell him the suggestion came from our boss.

Whether you think players should be more brutally honest no matter the circumstances and throw caution to the wind on their own initiative, or that the media should be more ethical in the concealment of their inquiries, one thing is certain above all others.

Winning often and consistently makes everybody's job infinitely easier.


Doug Brown, once a hard-hitting defensive lineman and frequently a hard-hitting columnist, appears Tuesdays and game days in the Free Press.

Twitter: @DougBrown97

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 14, 2012 C2

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