White Cover Magazine
Not far down the page, today, is an ironic headline.
There’s a smirk to be had in seeing this, of course. The article, written by Billie Jean King, is meant to be clicked. It’s meant to be read. But, you know, don’t believe it.
And it’s an especially meta choice for a website like The Players’ Tribune, which turned from being Derek Jeter’s post-retirement hobby to something of an actual force. In a few months, the Tribune has become a relatively effective microphone for athletes who have something to say – something that can’t be limited to 140 characters, that is, or bastardized by whoever’d copy and paste their Tweets and read into who they’ve unfollowed at seemingly awkward times.
And by whoever, I mean everyone. Because everyone does this. Even Bill Maher, who recently and expertly chewed apart America’s broadcast networks for what they’ve done to Cronkite’s world – trading real news for ‘What’s Trending?’ segments, or just showing YouTube clips that are ‘viral’ instead of filming something themselves – even Maher gets most of his material by just the same method.
Now, Maher isn’t a newsman. Of course. I’m not holding him to the same standard we’d hold Brian Williams or Diane Sawyer to, and he wouldn’t, either.
But in one of his finer New Rules, Maher ripped Twitter’s ugly side and simultaneously linked it to America’s wealth gap and the death of the ‘American Dream’. He even used that famous dress in a a segment pitting Democrats against Republicans. He’s not above using trends himself, and he wouldn’t have a job (as a comedian) without using other peoples’ mistakes as his material.
It’s impossible to sling mud without at least getting a little on yourself, is all I’m saying.
And so for Billie to write an article titled ‘Don’t Believe Everything You Read’, it’s wedgied underwear in the same way Derek Jeter’s Tribune is working against itself.
The site is supposed to be a fresh page with clickable insights into the minds of the athletes and celebrities we adore and obsess over. But it’s not, really. Because it’s not actually for the reader. It’s for the writer. And in this case, the writer is the athlete.
It’s convenient for these guys – like Ryan Kesler or Russell Wilson or Paul Pierce – to have the personality of their byline, but not the annoyance of having to deal with real people.
There’s no comment section. There’s nobody asking them questions. There’s nobody retweeting or screen-grabbing something racist or homophobic the famous people say.
Twitter is for the reader. It’s for some writers.
But the Tribune and other publications like it, by contrast, are for the guys and gals who’ve already made it.
That’s why so many crusty, old reporters hate Twitter. It’s not because they’re afraid of it or don’t see its value – it’s because they don’t want to work anymore. Our society isn’t meant to reward people who have more to give or something to say – it’s meant to reward people who’ve already done something notable, and would now just rather recline in the dark with their reputation intact.
That’s why it’s a reward, after all.
Now, the Players’ Tribune is just filling a hole in the market. And credit to Jeter – and to these athletes – for that. It’s a business and, while I have no idea of the model or the site’s financials or whether Jeter’s even worried about those things, I do know that in the media business, power and money are a chicken and an egg. They don’t just rotate which comes first, but they depend on each other survive.
You have to be known to make money in the media. But you also need money to make yourself known.
And at this point, the Tribune has succeeded in becoming the trendiest PR recycler in sports. It’s a one-way soap box without the accountability. And it’s threatening to journalism, maybe, because it has the ability to replace what’s been the editorial standard for a very long time.
The Tribune – much like LeBron’s sappy, forced-to-sound emotional letter in Sports Illustrated – serves a purpose. I’m not here to poo on it. But it’s not a substitute.
Because if Pierce or Kesler or Vernon Davis or Joe Theismann or Isaiah Thomas, or players like them, realize all of a sudden that they don’t need to answer questions in front of their locker or give away any kind of human-like soundbite during the work week, then there goes the farm.
Remember: Sports reporters aren’t really there to get quotes or answers. They’re there to ask questions.
Remember also: Not everyone can write. Just like not everyone can hit a single in the Bigs or dunk a basketball, writing is a craft and a career and, really, something that comes natural to the best. But athletes have been told for a long time they can do anything – they’ve got crowds of people and booster clubs giving them the thumb’s up on everything, and they’re convinced they can do no wrong. Because, in that bubble, they can’t. So they think they can write and, yes, some probably can. But not all can – not even all reporters can.
Now, maybe I’m alone in my critique here, because I just haven’t been moved by really anything on the Tribune.
I’m a Russell Wilson fan. Most people are. But I’m not religious, I think anyone who credits The Good Lord for a touchdown or a Super Bowl or a Grammy is feeding into a delusion our culture is afraid to legitimately tackle, and so I can’t stand any of Wilson’s garbage, pro-God B.S.
Now, I’m cool with him blasting that stuff over Twitter or Instagram – it’s his own account; do with it what you wish. And I’ll admit that I think our media has mostly failed by drinking the charming, ‘aww shucks’ Kool-Aid.
But am I really supposed to read Wilson’s piece in the Tribune and feel like that’s some true insight, or some substitute for the real thing?
(The real thing being a TV piece or newspaper column where an actual human asks questions, get Russ’s answer, and then filters out the crap with the bathwater.)
Wilson told some puffy story about how he used to be a bully and says he “was saved by my faith when I was 14 years old.” Like we’ve never heard that one before. Wait, next you’ll tell me you wanna write a romantic comedy where the guy chases the girl down at the airport at the end, right?
And what about this Kesler piece everyone in Vancouver’s talking about?
Keep in mind that I’m a Canucks fan, so I read his ‘column’ titled The 30-Year-Old Rookie and you’d need four strands of tape to stop my eyes from rolling into my skull. He spent three paragraphs talking about how he used to hate the guys he’s now teammates with – Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf – but he couldn’t take a sentence to answer one simple question: Why Ryan, did you want to get traded out of Vancouver?
Why didn’t he answer it? Because he didn’t need to.
Kesler faked his way through anything close to an explanation or even a follow-up, saying, “I wanted a trade out of Vancouver this offseason for several reasons.” And then, he didn’t list those reasons.
He said he’d miss his teammates, who he called buddies. He said Canada was a fishbowl and was hard on his personal life. That was literally it.
Forget the rumours that almost certainly drag with them some truth – that he’d been whining about being stuck in Vancouver for a while before he asked for a trade, that his teammates voted to have him stripped of his ‘A’, that other teammates had reportedly wanted the Canucks to trade Kesler once he made it clear he wasn’t committed to them, among others.
(This list of dissent was provided much more eloquently and with better references by Jason Botchord of The Province, this morning on TSN radio.)
Forget that, when Kesler was asked about his trade demands last year, he stepped over the question and told Vancouver reporters he wouldn’t be answering anything more on that topic. He even lowered his eyebrow, trying to pass the buck (or the puck, I guess) to the media assembled – as if they were dicks for asking the question, like they didn’t have a right to do so, and like Kesler himself wasn’t the reason. And that was ironic, too, because Kesler never passes.
Forget that he was a prickly, cocky guy. Forget the on-ice stuff, too, that he couldn’t pass the puck or that he hasn’t been a dominant player for four years now.
And it’s all well and fine, I suppose, if you’re not going to play the media game or put yourself out there. Your privacy is your privacy – you’re entitled to that, definitely.
But Kesler chose to write this article. He chose to put himself out there.
And at least in Vancouver, when Kesler was dodging questions and bristling at controversy he created, he was asked about it. He could choose to not answer, but he couldn’t choose not to be asked.
That’s the deal. That’s the agreement. That’s what you sign up for. You want to be famous? Fine. But you’re going to have to be famous.
Athletes never seem to get this, the ones who moan.
But now they have an outlet. Now, they can walk up to the plate, hiding a fragile body, disappointing results, and any signs of a crack behind a pretty package and a standing ovation.
Hey, that sounds like someone else we know.