Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Great Divide

There is an unwritten rule among those in the sports media that is universally accepted from Syracuse to San Francisco, Biloxi to Baltimore. A code of conduct that has not only dictated the coverage of both collegiate and professional athletics, but one that has managed to create a gaping hole in ideology between the two main constituencies of sport. The mandate, which has spawned both books and blog postings of the same title, reads something like this (remember, it is unwritten): no cheering in the press box.

It is this underlying law that has proceeded to divide those that cover the games, and those that consume them. It is this philosophy, I believe, that has helped give rise to the battle between bloggers and beat writers and one that was clearly prevalent in a recent media report on the new Ravens regime under new head coach, John Harbaugh. The story correctly pointed out the changes instilled by Harbaugh during his first few months in office and the writer seemed to appreciate the disciplinary tone Harbaugh has brought to the table. However, the divide between the media and the Ravens fan base was made abundantly clear in the following statement:

“I applauded when Harbaugh canned the TV show, Ravens Wired. The only thing more contrived and scripted was pro wrestling.”

Full disclosure. I am not only a contributing blogger for, but I have worked as a production assistant for the RaveTV crew that produces Wired and my wife is the lead editor and a producer for the show. That being said, I contest that not only does the report shine on a light on the great divide, but the statement is just not true.

First of all, Wired was not scripted. I spent more than 30 games listening from the players’ perspectives and have never seen any member of the Ravens organization or RaveTV crew hand a script to a player. Nor have any players written a script prior to their appearance. It is unscripted drama at its finest: every snap a chance to score, every man on a mission. And the microphone gives fans a chance to watch it all unfold as if they were lined up behind center. It must be a decent idea considering every Sunday Night and Monday Night telecast now features at least one wired player, while the NFL Network has even broadcast entire games with as many as 12 men on the field wearing the mic.

I will concede that a player knows when he will be wired and may be prone to talking more, or less as they case may be, when he is being recorded. But the beauty of Wired was the ability to give fans, not the press, an otherwise unknown glimpse into the action on the field. A show for the fans that this columnist apparently ‘applauded’ when he learned of its cancellation. Is he hoping fans become less engaged with a team that went 5-11 last year? Did he think that Wired was causing fans to become too attached to a particular player? Did he forget that just about every telecast already has about a dozen cameras and microphones covering the game for the network and NFL Films ensuring the players’ words and actions are being seen by millions? Does he really think the extra 50,000 Baltimore fans listening in would force a player to lose focus?

Why should the media be allowed to hear what the players have to say after the game, but fans should be banned from listening to what was said during the game itself? I contest that the reactionary quotes during post-game press conferences are far more ‘scripted’ than the sound bytes recorded during the game when players know that their statements are being recorded by at least a dozen voice recorders and a handful of cameras. How else to explain the fact that when a coach actually goes ‘off-script’ after a game, he not only ends up on YouTube, but a Coors Light commercial awaits him in the future.

It may sound like I am pulling a sentence out of context and portraying the statement as if it were the headline. Sound familiar? But know that I am not writing this story to convince or even suggest that Coach Harbaugh bring the show back. This is his team and his prerogative. What I will say is that the reporter’s take on the subject sheds a light on the long-standing gap between the media and the masses. Wired is a show for the fans. A show that has not only received praise from those who support the purple and black, but from those that award such work. The RaveTV team was awarded an Emmy for an episode of Wired from the 2006 season, which presented a game from Jonathan Ogden’s point of view. Subsequently, they were nominated for another Emmy this year for a 2007 episode that focused on former Ravens head coach, Brian Billick (Emmy’s to be awarded in June). In essence, the reporters’ peers have continued to honor the show, while he fires empty ammunition.

I even have some, albeit brief experience on the matter. I offer two anecdotes related to the rule that will leave you in no doubt as to why I blog rather than cover a beat. The first occurred during my sophomore year at Syracuse University. As a second year staff writer for The Daily Orange, I earned a chance to report on the big boys on campus (i.e. the football team) after spending my first year toiling away on the track and field beat. I was assigned a profile story on one of the Orangemen and was asked to watch the game from the press box, before venturing into the locker room after the game to get a few interviews for my piece. During the first quarter of play, the Orange got on the board with a long scoring play. I did what any sports fan would do – I clapped. Blasphemy! I received a few stares and gawking glances before my Sports Editor calmly informed me that clapping (i.e. cheering) was frowned upon in the press box.

Cut to 2006. As previously mentioned, I have worked with the RaveTV crew for the past two seasons and during an early season trip to Cleveland, I found myself on the field as Matt Stover lined up to kick a game-winning field goal. I was perched in the end zone as the ball flied through the up-rights, at which point I proceeded to lift my arms up in victory, fist pumping during my sprint back to the bench to catch the reaction shots from the team.

Now, how would you react? If you are reading this, I can only assume you are a fan of the Ravens and would have joined me in my jubilation. In addition, I bet you would have loved to hear what our wired Raven that week, Todd Heap, would have said to Stover upon his return to the bench. Come to think of it, I bet the media would too.