USA TODAY US Edition
Naked truth: Limiting access hurts fans
Please don’t think I’m lacking in sympathy for Andrew Whitworth and the several other Cincinnati Bengals players whose unclad rumps — and some fronts — were inadvertently exposed to the prying eyes of the NFL Network’s viewership Sunday.
But Whitworth’s plea to overhaul the league’s media policy thanks to a poorly aimed locker room camera is a bigger load of junk than, well, you got the picture.
Several players were caught unaware when the network snared Adam Jones for a Qand-A session after Cincinnati toppled the Buffalo Bills 34-21.
As Jones talked to Albert Breer about the “nitty-gritty” of his team’s latest triumph, the locker room hinterland showed at least seven players in various forms of undress, ranging from the partially clothed to those using the old towel-covering-the-assets ploy to the kind of thing that’ll give you nightmares.
Whitworth, an offensive tackle in his 10th year and a former NFL Players Association representative, was understandably annoyed. He demanded answers from the league and the network. He called the NFL’s open locker room policy outdated and pleaded for change in how he changes, or at least who gets to see it.
“This is my office space; I shouldn’t have to change in it,” Whitworth said. “Every single day I have to change clothes and be naked, or not, in front of the media. It’s just not right.”
Whitworth received support from several other players, but he should perhaps be careful what he wishes for. His idea for an alternative such as a media mixed zone might protect a few sensitive egos but would do nothing to help the league or its players.
A mixed zone is where players walk through a barricaded area and journalists are fenced behind waist-high metal grilles. Typically, it either turns into an unruly scrum or means a player walks past without talking to reporters.
The English Premier League has such an arrangement, and it doesn’t work. With few exceptions, the soccer league and its clubs do a miserable job of ensuring players or even coaches provide access to the media and by extension the public.
Whether athletes should be forced to share their comments is a matter of opinion. Organizations such as the NFL and the professional tennis circuits take a punitive approach, fining those who do not attend mandatory media sessions, as Marshawn Lynch well knows.
The “must speak” policy the NFL insists is vital to maintaining its brand and giving the public access to the inner workings of the game would be far more difficult to enforce in a mixed zone.
In England, the lack of access creates a combative scenario between players and the media and the resulting basic, perfunctory level of coverage makes for a severe disconnect between athletes and fans.
Part of what makes the NFL and U.S. sports special is the ability for fans, through the media, to get up close and personal with their heroes. Just as long as it’s not too close, nor too personal.