When Athletes Can't Join 'Em, They Try To Beat 'Em

During Super Bowl XLIX, Marshawn Lynch of the Seattle Seahawks showed his displeasure at answering questions from the media by repeating during his Media Day appearance, "I'm just here so I won't get fined" (which could have been as much as $500,000 by the NFL for not appearing) and then, at his next required press conference offering, "You all shove cameras and microphones down my throat. I ain't got nothing for you all ... You all will sit here doing the same thing. I'm here preparing for a game."

Meanwhile, he was wearing a hat with his trademarked Beast Mode clothing logo (for which the NFL considered fining him, but ultimately did not) and appeared in new marketing campaigns for Skittles and Progressive Insurance, the latter alongside Kenny Mayne of ESPN, with both emphasizing his dislike for speaking with the media.

During NBA All-Star Week, the usually cooperative Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder told the media during a press event, "You guys really don't know s*&#. To be honest, I'm only here talking to you because I have to."

Meanwhile, Sprint was breaking a family-oriented campaign in which Durant appeared as a lawyer touting the telecommunication's new "cut your bill in half" mantra while other marketing partners, including Nike, Orange Leaf yogurt, American Family Insurance and Panini America, were making their alliances with Durant well-known to the public.

Late last year, upon retiring from the New York Yankees, future Hall of Famer Derek Jeter unveiled The Players' Tribune, an online destination whose self-professed aim is to "offer unique insight into the daily sports conversation and to publish first-person stories directly from athletes," thus bypassing the media in connecting athletes to fans.

Among the voices heard on the Web site have been Kobe Bryant, Russell Wilson and Danica Patrick, all of whom make substantial income from endorsements and marketing deals in part by reaching the masses by getting their names and exploits in print.

Back in the day, baseball players traveled to games via train, and the media rode with them, getting to see first-hand the men who drank too much or participated in extra-marital sexual shenanigans. Little to none of that made the papers out of respect for the sanctity of the athlete's private lives and an unwritten rule akin to doctor-patient confidentiality,

A watershed moment came with the publication of Ball Four in 1970, bylined by pitcher Jim Bouton but heavily edited by veteran and respected sportswriter Lenny Shecter. It opened to the public for the first time the private lives and inner locker room sanctum of ballplayers and changed the way in which athletes and media were aligned.

Fast-forward to the age of Internet and social media, in which athletes can and are encouraged to express their opinions and beliefs. This has morphed into players and teams bypassing traditional media to break and/or announce news via Twitter and other social outlets.

This evolution has in ways been good for athletes, fans and media, opening up venues of conversation and topics of discussion that might otherwise have been closed. 

There is a lot to be said for DIY in all fields, including sports and marketing. The problem comes when an athlete with a Web site is empowered into believing that they are journalists and anyone with a cell phone believes that they are photographers.

The NFL has played into this, diluting the impact of sports reporting by offering Super Bowl Media Day credentials to "press representatives" who over the years have included those proposing marriage, dressed as super heroes or wearing a barrel or carrying puppets.

Can the media be heavy-handed? Can athletes be too cocky when it comes to the media? Can muddling the mix impact sports marketing? Is there a place for sports writers and sports marketing that does not belong to athletes?


As Mark Twain once put it, “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter. It's the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”

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