Thursday, September 3, 2009

Relationship between the Sox, media and fans tense and timeless

You can say anything you want about me and my writing, but if you badmouth Extreme we'll have a lot more than words between us. Photo from this site.

The best thing about finishing Fighting Words and seeing it hit the shelves (buy it here!)—other than living a cross-continental life of fame and fortune and having Jennifer Aniston on speed dial (OK that’s a lie, but I’m apparently following Wyclef Jean on Twitter and I can tell you he never shuts up)—is the absence of dread on mornings like last Thursday, when the Boston Herald’s Michael Silverman wrote a column criticizing the Red Sox’ recent sensitivity towards the media’s coverage of the team.

Three years ago, or even a year ago, such a piece would have filled me with panic. What if someone else decides it’d be interesting to write a book about the dynamic between the Red Sox and the media? And what if that someone else is able to, you know, author the book about it in less than a year? Gulp.

Now, such stories leave me strangely aglow with comfort (not quite Monty Burns in the woods aglow, but pretty close)—not only because I was able to get the book out before someone else did, but because it’s further proof this stuff is timeless. It’s nice to know I didn’t write a book about the modern version of the Macarena and that there’s a shred of a chance someone will pick up Fighting Words in a year or two and still find it relevant.

Because, let’s face it: There IS some kind of unavoidable disconnect between the players, the media and the fans that root for the team and absorb the coverage. And it’s an impossible to bridge that gap and impossible to choose sides, because you can’t change instinctual reactions nor blame people for having them.

Players are going to get mad whenever the coverage isn’t positive, even if the non-positive coverage is mostly straight reportage. It’s kind of hard to avoid that the Sox had a miserable stretch leading up to and following the All-Star Break, or that they fell hopelessly behind the Yankees, or that David Ortiz tested positive for performance-enhancers in 2003. (Perhaps Ortiz was angry about the moralizing of columnists, but I kind of doubt it)

Such sentiments—whether born out of the expectation that the press should serve as a supportive cheerleader or the athlete’s need to turn any slight into motivational material—are universal in professional sports.

“Ninety-nine percent of the players think every city is negative,” former Herald columnist and current columnist Howard Bryant said in an interview for Fighting Words in January 2005. “If you talk to players about how they’re perceived or portrayed, I don’t think there’s any market where they could say ‘That’s a fair town.’ I think it all depends on how you’re being treated at that moment. I think that would be the case with any of us, if we were in the public eye.

Added Bryant later in the interview: “Let’s face it: When you talk to a ballplayer anywhere, you could write nine good stories about them and one bad one and they’ll say you’re being negative. They don’t remember the good.”

Fandom, meanwhile, is about rooting for and being supportive of your favorite team and players and jumping to their defense whenever someone is critical or dismissive of said team and players. Or, for those of us who don’t really root for professional teams, bands. I get worked into a frothy rage whenever anyone thinks Extreme is nothing more than “More Than Words,” but I digress.

Nobody likes being criticized, and the reporter gets it from both subject and audience. Michael Gee expounded on the latter element Wednesday in a really interesting guest column at Boston Sports Media Watch.

Perhaps—and I’m just theorizing here—the sensitivity of reporters is heightened by our (I’ve been out of work for mumblemumble months, can I say our?) own sense of impending doom and marginalization in a business largely headed down the crapper. Maybe we’re upset that people are critical of a profession in which we’ve invested so much time, effort and money. Of course, it doesn’t stop us from blasting doctors, car mechanics and lawyers, does it?

The relationship between the players, the media and the fans is a particularly unique one in Boston, one that remains fascinating even if it really hasn’t changed in decades and even though the fundamental differences between the parties aren’t going to disappear any millennium soon. To which I say: Thank goodness.

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