The Media Column: From Brad Marchand to Bill Belichick, why do sportswriters cheer on rude behavior towards their colleagues?

Alex Reimer
May 08, 2019 - 1:34 pm
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Electing to work in sports journalism is akin to spending life at the losers’ table. You dedicate your days to writing and talking about much more athletic –– and generally speaking –– attractive individuals who probably can’t even recall your first name. All they know is you usually stand next to them while they’re trying to get changed, asking them to “talk about” the fourth quarter or power play. 

It is understandable if most professional athletes feel like the writers covering them are gnats, especially in the age of social media. Since athletes often express those views in public, it’s also not surprising that some fans follow their lead –– even if sports writers are hanging around the aforementioned locker rooms to ostensibly get answers for them.

With this reality in mind, it is imperative for sports journalists to stick up for themselves. The truth is, these professional sports leagues are multibillion-dollar organizations that deserve to be covered with the same scrutiny as other large financial and entertainment industries. Executives are constantly adjudicating issues like domestic violence and sexual assault; owners are incessantly asking municipalities for public funds and trying to screw over their labor force. Pro sports leagues are not separate from Corporate America. They embody all of its best and worst characteristics, from philanthropy to criminality. 

This is a longwinded way of saying, sportswriters do important work. Yes, the job regularly involves covering the inane, like a grown man stomping on another grown man’s stick during a hockey game. But these high-profile athletes are superstars, just like actors and singers. They should expect to get asked about their actions. 

But apparently, Brad Marchand hasn’t received the memo. The Bruins’ lead agitator has taken an adversarial stance against the media this postseason, blowing off reporters with curt answers   in postgame interview sessions. And yet, some sportswriters are lauding him for it. They are watching their bandmates getting stuffed into lockers, failing to realize they could be next.

Marchand’s surly attitude towards the press was on full display in the aftermath of Game 6, when Sportsnets’ Kyle Bukauskas asked Marchand three basic questions about his team, only to receive 10 words in response. 

“Tuukka Rask was saying this core isn’t getting any younger. What do you make of the opportunity that lies ahead of you?,” Bukauskas asked. 

“It’s been fun,” Marchand said. 

“I see where this is going,” Bukauskas added before offering his final futile inquiry.

The possible explanation for Marchand’s dismissive responses trace back to Game 2, when Bukauskas joked with the forward about breaking Blue Jackets winger Cam Atkinson’s stick in the previous contest.

“Did you manage to get your skate resharpened after Thursday,?” Bukauskas asked. 

Many in the hockey press took Marchand’s side and condemned Bukauskas for the crime of joking about stick-stomping. “Tip to young broadcasters: Even if you can joke with players/coaches off camera, that in no way should make its way on camera in a pre-game setting,” tweeted self-described “freelance broadcaster” Kris Abbot, to the tune of 552 retweets and more than 3,000 “likes.”

Even our own Bruins team here at WEEI appears to support Marchy. Columnist Matt Kalman –– whose work is so good, even Gerry Callahan praises his coverage –– chastised the pearl-clutchers on Twitter. Scott McLaughlin, whose perfectly normal question to John Tortorella about his promise of returning to Boston for Game 7 prompted the petulant coach to storm off, asked why anybody cares about Marchand’s answers. 

It is true that Bukauskas was freelancing with his skate sharpening joke, and wasn’t playing the role of straight reporter. Marchand also dedicated some of his warmup time to take part in the impromptu Q&A. 

So though Marchand’s attitude with Buauskas Monday was undoubtedly petty, at least there’s an apparent root cause. But that doesn’t explain why Marchand also acted like a jerk towards the rest of the press, using just 39 words in his two-minute locker room scrum.

People often categorize the “media” as one collective unit, not differentiating between hardworking journalists and talk show carnival barkers like yours truly. Unsurprisingly, athletes seemingly do the same, which probably explains why David Price continues to chastise Red Sox beat writers, who have largely been fair to him. Hell, even Dan Shaughnessy has continuously jumped to Price’s defense.

The power dynamics in these postgame scrums or press conference are stark: the multimillionaire coaches and players stands at big podiums or their lockers, while schleppy writers hold up tape recorders, begging for morsels of insight. The most blatant recent example of this was Bill Belichick’s behavior at the NFL owners’ breakfast, making reporters stand up for 45 minutes while he verbally spit on them. (Scores of articles summarizing the uncomfortable encounter praised Belichick for being in "midseason form.") 

This isn’t to say all of writers are innocent bystanders –– some write very critical and mean things. But that’s part of the job and exchange with the free press. Levying criticism is not a journalistic taboo. 

And even so, punishing a wide group of people for the behavior of a few is immature and trivial. Bruins general manager Don Sweeney seemingly agrees; he told reporters Tuesday the team would discuss Marchand’s conduct with him.

On Wednesday, Marchand said he was onto Round 3 before offering an array of expansive answers. It seems like the message was heard loud and clear.

It’s strange when a team’s GM is more respectful to the press than members of the media themselves. 

————
Team Buck: I suppose I am serving as the defense lawyer nobody asked for, because I also side with Steve Buckley over David Price, who called him out this week for his White House pun. When Alex Cora announced he was abstaining from the trip, Buck tweeted the “white Sox” will be going to the nation’s capital. It was funny, accurate, and ultimately, benign. It’s a commonly held observation.

Well, Price quote-tweeted the joke, and said he thinks “more than 38K people should see” it. When asked about the ambiguous line, Price explained he thought Buck’s tweet was “insensitive.”

Please. Buck was not trying to divide the clubhouse or sow discord. It’s OK to laugh, even when an evil member of the media makes the joke.

Kudos to Pierce for being wrong: Paul Pierce looks very foolish for declaring the Celtics-Bucks series was over after Game 1. And good for him. His take generated attention and conversation –– well done. 

Here’s hoping this experience doesn’t dissuade Pierce from taking strong stances in the future. In this case, it is more important to be entertaining than right. 

Farewell to "Evan Dreich:" Wednesday was Drellich's final appearance on WEEI's morning airwaves, ending an odd and entertaining run with the station. His debut appearance on "Kirk & Callahan" was the second-best ever behind mine, as he berated Kirk and Gerry for being mean to the Red Sox beat writers. He then appeared on "Toucher & Rich" shortly thereafter, leading to his first of several soft bans from the show.

Drellich, an unapologetically liberal Manhattan kid with a strong bent towards covering labor issues, is not the stereotypical sports talk show host. That was one of the beauties of K&C, and now M&C: it featured people whose perspectives were seldom heard on the sports talk dial. At one point, the K&C casting couch consisted of Trenni Kusnierek, John Tomase, Gary Tanguay, the Mut Man, and me. There was not a single loud and obnoxious fake voice among us. 

So farewell to Drellich. Too bad you never found the perfect egg sandwich. 

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