By: Laura Reina
When is a professional athlete off-limits to the press? sp.
THE NEW YORK Yankees had just returned to New York after being eliminated from post-season play by the Seattle Mariners. It was Don Mattingly’s first taste of playoff action after more than a decade as a Yankee.
After arriving in New York, Mattingly and some teammates showed up at Yankee Stadium to clean out their lockers. But that’s not all Mattingly did.
He also reportedly “blew off three newspapermen and a TV reporter who were waiting for him,” saying he had “talked about it all yesterday. I don’t know if I need to talk to you guys anymore,” according to a column by Wallace Matthews of the, New York Post.
Matthews also described Mattingly’s overall relationship with the press during this season by saying:
“His apostles in the press ? and, incredibly there are still a few of them ? chose to overlook his negative tendencies, his self-pitying and his petulant refusal to answer post-game questions.”
Matthew’s criticisms of Mattingly’s behavior raises some questions about what an athlete’s obligations are toward the media. Mattingly wasn’t “working” that day, and he and his team had just had their season end on a disappointing note. With the season over ? and an analysis of why the team lost completed ? should the press have left him alone?
When is a professional athlete off-limits to the press? The minute he or she steps out of the locker room? At home? In a restaurant? Never?
Mark Torpey, sports editor at the Boston Herald, said managers and coaches have more of an obligation to make themselves available to the press outside of the arena, ballpark or stadium. Once athletes leave the confines of the stadium, it’s their option to speak with the press.
Tim Franklin, associate managing editor for sports at the Chicago Tribune, said athletes are public figures, though not in the same way as politicians, and what they do is of interest to the public.
“They want publicity, but when it’s unflattering publicity, that’s when the hypocrisy sets in,” he said.
Franklin doesn’t believe reporters should stalk athletes by sitting outside of their homes, for example. But if a reporter knows the athlete will be at a certain place at a certain time, it’s OK to be there to speak with him or her.
“When athletes are not at work, leave them alone,” said Dan McGrath, deputy sports editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer.
McGrath feels that any press contact outside of the stadium should be arranged by appointment. Yet, the athlete should also remember that sometimes there are extraordinary situations, such as a trade, which will require contact with the press outside the ballpark.
Other than that, what athletes do on their own time is their business, said McGrath.
Mike Anastasi, sports editor for the Los Angeles Daily News disagrees.
“If a professional athlete is of news value, he’s open game,” Anastasi said. For any significant story, the press has the right to call an athlete at home, he said, adding that showing up at an athlete’s home is questionable, but acceptable under dire circumstances.
Gene Meyers, sports editor for the Detroit Free Press, also feels calling an athlete at home is acceptable, though “common decency and politeness is needed.”
Though privacy needs to be respected, just because an athlete is out of the locker room doesn’t make him or her off-limits. He added that it’s not OK to camp outside of an athlete’s house.
It’s a case-by-case situation, said Greg Gallo, sports editor of the New York Post. But, athletes are in a certain category, and when they leave the ballpark, they’re there for the press to pursue, he said.
Cathy Henkel, sports editor for the Seattle Times said everybody deserves a private space (home is private). But when in public, the professional athlete must deal with being a public figure.
“That’s the way it is in entertainment and in sports, and if the athlete can’t deal with it, that’s too bad,” she said.