Walk away. Refuse to listen. That’s what I wanted to yell at the reporters who followed Philadelphia wide receiver Terrell Owens after he stormed out of Eagles training camp. Instead they pursued Owens over the river to the front yard of his New Jersey home. They fired questions, recorded on TV, as he did sit-ups and arm curls.
“What’s your relationship with Donovan McNabb?”
“Will you sit out?”
“You think the Eagles are making a mistake?”
Owens, the master of self-aggrandizement, was smiling like a man who knows he can stick his head in a lion’s mouth without getting eaten. He kept on with his sit-ups, barking out “no comment” and “no comment.” At one point, a reporter asked, “Is this a record for no comments?” and Owens said, “It might be. No comment.”
Well, it’s a record for something, but it has to do with us, not him. How much lower do we go before we just shut down our journalism standards altogether? A football player doesn’t like the nearly $50 million contract he signed last year? He pouts? He gets tossed out of camp for a week?
As our kids say, “Yeah? So?”
Instead of treating it like the footnote it deserves to be, we cover it like Watergate. Mothers may have been protesting the Iraq war outside the president’s ranch in Texas, but that seemed mild compared to the furor in Owens’ driveway.
A leader in the pack?
Walk away. Somebody needs to. Somebody needs to say the only thing making this news is us. If such embarrassingly indulged pro athletes like Owens don’t have an audience to whine to, their complaints lose weight. They might even go away.
All it takes is one news organization to say, “We’re not covering this.” Maybe others will follow.
I know that sounds naïve. Newspapers, television and radio all suffer from the same jealous affliction for which they criticize sports owners: Namely, they can’t help themselves. If one guy has it, we all have to have it. If one TV station shows Owens mouthing off, the next one says, “Why don’t we show that?”
Well, to quote your mother, “If someone jumps off a bridge, do you have to follow?”
Honestly, you would have thought Pulitzers were being handed out the way the breathless commentary kept coming out of Eagles camp. All this because an athlete thinks he deserves more money? Really now, is that earth-shattering news? During training camp? It’s not as if he stomped out during the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl.
A reason to dream
Walk away. To critics who say, “Journalists cover the news, they don’t decide it,” I say, get real. We decide news all the time. Ask any sports editor about requests to cover a kayak race or a badminton tournament. For whatever reason, we decide not to cover it. Why? Is it not news? Of course it is. It’s just not, in our opinion, newsworthy.
Well, if you can make that call once, you can make it twice. Someone could say Terrell Owens in his driveway is not newsworthy. You report he left camp. You report when he comes back. The rest is soap opera.
At one point last week, Owens chided the reporters in his driveway, saying, “You’re interrupting my workout.” Interrupting a staged event? And they still stayed there. One of them later thanked Owens for his time.
What I wouldn’t give if one of those reporters clicked off his microphone and said, “This is insane.” Or if one ripped the film from his camera and tossed it. Better yet, if their bosses called and said, “Come home. This is beneath us.”
I know I’m dreaming. But I’m not alone. Plenty of reporters, especially in sports, are reaching Hamlet moments of self-examination. Maybe we’re just getting older.
Or maybe we’re getting smarter.
Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org. “The Mitch Albom Show” is 3-6. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).