CHRISTOPHER DAVIES conducts a flight of media fancy ahead of the new season
OLD TRAFFORD, AUGUST 26, 2013…MANCHESTER UNITED V CHELSEA: At 5pm, a Manchester United media relations official opens the home dressing room and invites the accredited media to enter. They are able to select the players they wish to interview about the game. Robin van Persie talks about his goal…Wayne Rooney is happy to chat about his United ambitions.
Meanwhile, in the Chelsea dressing room it is a similar story. Players happily talk to the media as they get dressed after a shower.
Neil Custis, Danny Taylor, Ian Ladyman, Richard Tanner, Mark Ogden and the rest of the Manchester-based reporters leave Old Trafford with note-pads full, happy in the knowledge that whatever they write – or indeed, whatever headlines their sports desk may put on their reports – they will not…in fact cannot be banned.
All of which is as likely to happen as being struck by lightning a minute after winning a lottery rollover.
Yet if members of the Football Writers’ Association covered American football such facilities would be reality – and much more. While English football too often erects a barrier between managers and players and the media, the National Football League’s press policy ensures those involved in the sport must speak to the press on a regular basis. Yes, must. And yes, regularly.
NFL clubs, and by extension their head coach and players, have no option but to adhere to the media regulations laid down by the NFL. Anyone who misses a mandatory interview session can be fined, even banned – a role reversal from England. The FWA has worked closely with the domestic authorities to improve press facilities with success, yet members of the Pro Football Writers of America enjoy a freedom we can only dream about.
Read on and weep…
By the time they reach the NFL, players have had several years of media experience at high school and college level. Despite this, all NFL franchises are still required to conduct a media training session each year prior to the start of the regular season for players and coaches. In addition, the club’s PR director must arrange for a separate media training meeting for the rookies. The NFL assists in identifying professional media trainers.
Before the regular season begins all 32 teams produce, for their players and coaches, a brochure listing individual local media (with photos) and reviewing club policies on media and public/community relations. Imagine Ashley Cole being handed a booklet with details and photographs of the press he has not spoken to for six years.
In England, apart from some local newspapers, there is little or no daily contact with managers or, particularly, players. Generally speaking, the day before a Barclays Premier League game the manager and perhaps one player will attend a press conference. In the NFL, each club must open their locker room during the week on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday – Tuesday is treated as a players’ day off – to all accredited media for player interviews for a minimum – yes minimum – of 45 minutes. This is required under League rules and is in their contracts. It is not permissible for any group of players to boycott the media. Star players must be available at least once during the week.
All NFL players are also required to participate in weekly conference calls with the media from the opposing team’s city, though no player is required to do more than five such sessions in the regular season.
In addition to holding a news conference after every game, the head coach must be available on a regular basis to the media that regularly cover the team – at a minimum on four days.
Players who feel uneasy about female reporters in the locker room receive no sympathy from the league, whose policy is: “By law, women must be granted the same rights to perform their jobs as men. Please remember that women reporters are professionals and should be treated as such.”
In the locker rooms, the home club must make arrangements for both teams to screen the shower areas from view without blocking access to player lockers. Also, each team must supply its players with wrap-around towels or robes in addition to the normal supply of bath towels for post-game showers.
The NFL sees the media as a valuable outlet to sell its product. Its policy states: “Cooperation with the news media is essential to the continuing popularity and financial prosperity of our game and its players. This is an important part of your job, especially in these challenging times when everyone in the NFL must do more to promote our game.”
Anyone who reads the way the US media covers the sport will realise that such an open policy does not result in lovey-dovey reporting. Hacks on the other side of the pond have a deep well of vitriol, but they are not punished for any critical views.
As footballwriters.co.uk has highlighted many times, English clubs ban reporters for the most ridiculous of reasons, not least for printing an injury story that is 100 per cent accurate, but which the manager would rather have kept quiet. This cannot happen in the NFL as the league insists that clubs must ensure that all medical information issued to the media is credible, responsible, and specific in terms that are meaningful to teams, media, and fans. The NFL believes that its injury reporting policy relates directly to the integrity of the game, and club management, in consultation with its medical staff, is responsible for the accuracy and appropriateness of medical information that is distributed in response to public interest.
In other words, teams cannot be economical with the truth and no injuries can be kept secret from the press and, most of all, spectators.
Franchises are also forbidden to ban individual members of the regularly accredited media for what is perceived as “unfair coverage” or any similar reason. In the United States, journalists can write what they want without fear of reprisal. It is a no-ban culture in the land of the free, yet in a country that has fought for the right to free speech an opinion that does not go down well with a club can see a football writer banned.
Oh, and all salaries of coaches and players are made public.
- This is an edited version of a feature first published on www.footballwriters.co.uk, the official website of the Football Writers’ Association, and is reproduced here with permission
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