For 30-plus years, I was a sportswriter. A good chunk of my time was spent in locker rooms. That was my office. It’s where I worked, where I formed critical working relationships and where I gathered crucial information.
Just like most sports journalists.
For the past year, however, locker rooms have been off-limits to the media because of COVID-19 concerns. That’s understandable. But it also made it harder for sports reporters to do their job.
When I wrote about this topic back in May, for example, Minneapolis Star Tribune sports columnist Chip Scoggins told me, “You feel detached without locker room access, like something is missing and you’re only getting part of the true picture with everything being done by Zoom. So much of what goes into covering a particular team as a conduit to fans — whether as a beat writer or columnist — is enhanced by personal interactions with the subjects you’re writing about. I miss digging out stories that happen organically from having casual one-on-one conversations with athletes or coaches in the locker room about their sport or their personal lives.”
With vaccines and fans back in the stands and the feeling that there was some semblance of normalcy starting to return to the sports world, there was optimism that journalists could return to the locker rooms. But, at least for right now, the country’s most popular sport will continue to keep locker rooms closed to the media. Well, most media.
In a memo to teams on Tuesday, the National Football League said that on game days, non-team-affiliated media will not be permitted in locker rooms.
On one hand, you can understand why teams and leagues want to be cautious. With COVID-19 cases rising again in some parts of the country, as well as the delta variant, leagues and teams do want to protect themselves and others.
Then again, it’s not banning all media. Pro Football Talk’s Charean Williams writes, “A maximum of three people from a team’s public relations department/team-affiliated media are allowed in the locker room postgame while players are present.”
So, as you can see, even team-affiliated media are severely limited in access.
Look, in the end, it’s difficult to question the NFL’s decision, especially with so much uncertainty regarding COVID-19. Major League Baseball does not allow reporters in the clubhouses and the National Basketball Association and National Hockey League will soon have to make decisions on locker room access.
I spoke to two veteran football reporters after Tuesday’s decision. Even though they said they understood the NFL’s concerns, both did wonder if this was just a way for the NFL to limit access. They both asked that if reporters proved they were vaccinated and wore masks and tried to maintain some sort of social distance, wouldn’t it be safe? One told me he wouldn’t be surprised if reporters were never allowed back in the locker room, even if there comes a day when coronavirus is no longer an issue.
The best journalists will do what they have done for the past two years. They will continue to find alternate ways to gather stories, interviews and produce outstanding reports.
And while there are far greater concerns in the world right now than locker room access for sports journalists, the lack of access is an unfortunate consequence and, sadly, will have an impact on some of the work that sports journalists can do.
The latest with Afghanistan
Each day, for the past week, I’ve been trying to highlight some notable work about Afghanistan. President Joe Biden said Tuesday that he still hopes the U.S. will meet the withdrawal deadline of Aug. 31. Here are a few more stories that should interest you.
- Must-read work from Stephen Grey, Charlotte Greenfield, Devjyot Ghoshal, Alasdair Pal and Reade Levinson of Reuters: “Reuters photographer was killed after being left behind in retreat, Afghan general says.” It tells the story of Reuters photographer Danish Siddiqui, including some of his final images.
- Pakistani activist for female education and Nobel Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai with “Healing from one Taliban bullet. Nine years later, doctors are still repairing the Taliban’s damage to my body.”
- The New York Times’ Norimitsu Onishi and Sharif Hassan with “Under Taliban Rule, Life in Kabul Transforms Once Again.”
- In a guest essay for the New York Times, Richard Stengel, who served as President Barack Obama’s undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs, writes, “The Taliban Want You to Keep Your Phone On.”
Jan. 6 attack on journalist results in arrest
An Oklahoma man was arrested last week for his actions during the Jan. 6 insurrection, including charges that he physically assaulted a credentialed photographer for The Associated Press.
Benjamen Scott Burlew, 41, of Miami, Oklahoma, is charged with several federal offenses. According to the indictment, at least two videos from that day showed Burlew “aggressively confronted” photographer John Minchillo and then, along with other individuals, “grabbed the photographer and pushed him, then shoved and dragged him.” Before that, the photographer had been pulled down stairs by two unidentified assailants.
There was more. The indictment said, “Later, the photographer can be observed on video having been backed up against a low stone wall separating the U.S. Capitol structure from the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol by the assailants. As alleged, Burlew lunged toward the photographer and grabbed his upper chest and leg to forcefully throw and push the photographer over the wall to the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol Building, several feet below. Burlew continued to shove and push the photographer until the photographer was thrown backward over the wall, where he landed on his back on the grounds of the west lawn. As alleged, Burlew can be seen in the video leaning over the wall to observe his fall.”
According to the indictment, Burlew is one of eight individuals in this investigation who have been “arrested for allegedly destroying media equipment, assaulting journalists or inciting violence against members of news media.”
MSNBC staffers vote to unionize
Editorial staffers at MSNBC voted to unionize Tuesday. In a vote of 141 to 58, staffers voted to unionize with the Writers Guild of America, East. The vote came after MSNBC chose to not voluntarily recognize the union in June. The MSNBC union will be made up of 300 members, including writers, producers, booking producers and other editorial staff at MSNBC and “The Choice” on Peacock. Now the union will begin negotiations with the network for a contract.
In a statement, the MSNBC organizing committee said, “Victory! This victory is the first of its kind in cable news and we are so proud of what we’ve all accomplished together. A big thank you to our fellow union members in the Writers Guild, across media, and the entire labor movement. We are also deeply appreciative of our MSNBC coworkers, hosts, regular contributors, and the elected officials who supported us along the way. We now look forward to constructive, good faith negotiations with MSNBC management to make this an even better place to work — with input from all of us. This is who we are.”
In a memo to staff, MSNBC president Rashida Jones said, “As I have shared since the beginning of this process, I am glad we held an election, which gave everyone affected by this process the opportunity to have their voice heard. Over the last six months, I have heard from many of you about your pride for MSNBC, your dedication to the network, and your excitement for the future of this organization.”
Jones went on to say, “I know there were people who were supportive of the union efforts, and others who did not want to be represented by the union. As we all move forward, we’re committed to working together as one unified organization where we’ll continue to respect, support and collaborate with one another, and foster a culture that makes us all proud.”
Give it back
Former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been stripped of the honorary Emmy given to him last year for his COVID-19 briefings. Which led me to have two thoughts: the first was — good. The second was, wait, he got an Emmy for doing his job? I’ll be honest. I had completely forgotten The International Academy of Television Arts & Sciences gave him an Emmy last November passing along much-needed information to the people of New York.
On Tuesday, the Academy said, “His name and any reference to his receiving the award will be eliminated from International Academy materials going forward.”
Actor Cynthia Nixon, who was unsuccessful in her bid to become governor of New York in 2018, wasted no time punking Cuomo. The “Sex and the City” co-star tweeted, “The difference between me and Andrew Cuomo? Neither of us is governor, but I still have my Emmy(s).”
Meanwhile, new New York Gov. Kathy Hochul gave her first public address Tuesday and said, “I look forward to a fresh, collaborative approach. That’s how I’ve always conducted myself. It’ll be nothing new for me, but it’s something I’m planning on introducing to the state Capitol.”
She also knows she is coming in at a controversial time.
“I want people to believe in their government again,” Hochul said. “Our strength comes from the faith and the confidence of the people who put us in these offices, and I take that very seriously.”
Social media and vaccines
Where do you get your information about COVID-19 vaccines? Well, according to new data from Pew Research, about half the people (four in 10) have been getting “some” or “a lot” of news and information about vaccines on social media. About 51% say they have been getting not much news or none at all through social media.
Pew’s Amy Mitchell and Jacob Liedke write, “While about half of U.S. adults get some or a lot of vaccine news on social media, just 6% find it the most important way, and 33% say it’s important but not the most important way. For the majority of Americans (60%), social media is not an important way to keep up with COVID-19 vaccine news. This includes the 31% who don’t get any vaccine information on social media at all.”
Mitchell and Liedke write, “Younger Americans and women are more likely than older Americans and men, respectively, to get COVID-19 vaccine news and information on social media and to say it’s an important way for them to get this type of news, but much of that is tied to the fact that these individuals are more likely to use social media for news in the first place.”
One conservative pundit sues another
Candace Owens, the controversial conservative often seen trolling or sharing awful takes on social media, might have gone too far in her efforts to be provocative. She is being sued for $20 million by Kimberly Klacik, another conservative and Trump-backer who failed in her bid to win a Congressional seat in Maryland. In June, Owens posted a video on social media accusing Klacik of being a strip club “madame,” as well as laundering money, tax fraud and using campaign funds to do cocaine. Among Klacik’s claims is that she lost a book deal because of Owens’ comments.
Klacik’s attorney, Jacob Frenkel, told The Baltimore Sun’s Rose Wagner, “Baseless character assassination has no place in political dialogue. The defendant chose to use her huge social media platform to attack a respected Baltimore political figure; we are using the proper forum — the power of the courts — to respond. The detail in Ms. Klacik’s lawsuit speaks for itself.”
Both Owens and Klacik are often seen on Fox News as guests. Well, Klacik used to be, but not as much recently. For more on the defamation lawsuit, check out Justin Baragona’s story in The Daily Beast or Aris Folley’s story for The Hill.
Big shakeup at ESPN
Big changes at ESPN … and Max Kellerman is in the middle of it all. For starters, Kellerman is leaving the ESPN morning TV show, “First Take,” where he has debated Stephen A. Smith since 2016. But that’s just half the news involving Kellerman. Starting Sept. 7, Kellerman will join Keyshawn Johnson and Jay Williams on ESPN’s nationally syndicated morning (6 to 10 a.m. Eastern) radio show. The new show will be called “Keyshawn, JWill & Max.”
It’s the latest shakeup on ESPN’s morning show after nearly two decades of stability with “Mike & Mike,” featuring Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic. That iconic show debuted in 2000. Greenberg left in 2017 and was replaced by Trey Wingo. That show lasted until August 2020 when Wingo told management he didn’t like the unusual hours associated with doing a morning radio show. Ultimately, his contract, as well as Golic’s, was not renewed by ESPN.
ESPN then went with Johnson, Williams and Zubin Mehenti for the morning radio show, but Mehenti hasn’t been on the air in months. He has had health issues, believed due to being diagnosed with diabetes. Alan Hahn has regularly filled in and was thought to be a consideration for a permanent spot on the show. Instead, Hahn will have a midday show (noon to 3 p.m. Eastern) with former NFL star Bart Scott.
So who replaces Kellerman on “First Take?” Several reports, including one last week from the New York Post’s Andrew Marchand, say Smith will debate a variety of special guests with no permanent replacement for Kellerman. In a follow-up column Tuesday, Marchand wrote that Smith wanted Kellerman off “First Take” for years. Marchand wrote, “Though it wasn’t personal, according to sources, Kellerman has a ‘smartest guy in the room’ attitude, and Smith wanted more of a debating challenger. And ultimately, he wanted it to be him versus the world.”
- Speaking of Stephen A. Smith, he was the guest host of Monday night’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live” and he was pretty good, especially for someone with no experience in this particular format. Here’s a clip of his monologue, which takes some shots, no pun intended, at those who refuse to get vaccinated. And here’s a breakdown of the night from Awful Announcing’s Jay Rigdon. Smith has said in the past that he would be interested in hosting a late-night talk show.
- Nieman Lab’s Joshua Benton with “Facebook sent a ton of traffic to a Chicago Tribune story. So why is everyone mad at them?”
- Emily Wilder was the Associated Press reporter fired because the AP said her tweets about Palestine and Israel violated its social media policy. On Tuesday, as a BuzzFeed contributor, she had a new piece out called “13 States Can Charge Unarmed People With Murder For Fatal Shootings By Police Officers.”
- My colleague Al Tompkins writes about CNN’s big hiring push for its upcoming streaming service.
- Poynter’s Roy Peter Clark with “Who is the best public writer in America on the pandemic?”
- The Washington Post continues to invest in producing work for TikTok. Here’s an announcement of two new positions.
- The New Yorker’s Isaac Chotiner talks with The Athletic’s Katie Strang in “How the Sports Media Covers Sexual Abuse.” It includes this quote from Strang: “Any woman in this business will tell you that she has endured sexual harassment, gendered language, discrimination to some level. I am certainly not alone in that. I’m lucky that I’ve always had a tremendous amount of support and allies around me, but I have certainly not been immune to the kind of treatment that I’ve reported on.”
- In a heartbreaking and powerful guest essay for The New York Times, two-time Super Bowl-winning coach Tom Coughlin with: “Nothing Could Prepare Me for Watching My Wife Slip Away.”
- Another must-read in The New York Times. For New York Times Magazine, it’s Susan Dominus with “He Was the ‘Perfect Villain’ for Voting Conspiracists.”
- Ben Tinker, the executive producer of CNN Health, with: “My son was lucky to get a pediatric ICU bed when he needed one. He shouldn’t have needed luck.”
- Finally, Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts has died. Washington Post pop music critic Chris Richards remembers him in, “Charlie Watts was a gentleman in the world’s most dangerous band.” And for Rolling Stone, Rob Sheffield with “No One Impressed Charlie Watts, Not Even the Stones.”
Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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