Why do athletes feel as though they are under attack? What can journalists do to address this?


America feels as though it is under siege right now.

The students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, who are eloquently, candidly and smartly addressing the concerns they have about gun violence in America, certainly do. As does the NRA, whose president says that the Second Amendment is being attacked. There’s also President Trump, who claims that the FBI investigation into his administration is a threat. And there are also millions of Americans, who are concerned about our election process being hacked by Russians. There are also smokers, drinkers, non-smokers, Christians, Muslims and agnostics who have, in their minds, grave concerns about attacks on their way of life.

Add athletes to this list.

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Nobody owns basic league stats

There’s no need to cite statistics like this found on websites, such as MLB.com

I get all sorts of sports questions but few that are so glaringly bizarre that I squint, furrow my brow and figuratively scratch my head, wondering whether I heard the student’s words correctly. In essence, he asked whether journalists can use league stats posted on websites. Apparently, this person had been scolded for using basic statistics posted on MLB and ESPN websites

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Don’t allow sources to approve anything before publication

Jemele Hill interviewed Janay Rice for this essay that was published in ESPN's magazine and on its website.
Jemele Hill interviewed Janay Rice for this essay that was published in ESPN’s magazine and on its website.

No matter what anybody tells you, never allow a source to approve a story before it gets published. Your credibility as a journalist gets crushed if you allow a source to control a story, no matter how hard you might attempt to explain that nothing important was removed.

This is why I am bothered by ESPN’s interview with Janay Rice, wife to suspended NFL running back Ray Rice.

Last year, Sports Illustrated allowed LeBron James to review a story, but the magazine did not offer approval rights. Still, avoid this approach as well, because readers will question your integrity, believing a source probably did have some control over the final product. As outlined in the Society of Professional Journalism’s Code of Ethics, we must remain independent.

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Don’t hide infractions at your school

You are not a cheerleader. You are not the sports information director, nor the university’s spokesperson. You are a sports reporter. That means you file stories about alleged infractions, such as those regarding Cam Newton, whose Heisman hopes are evaporating as quickly as a stolen laptop. Still, the other candidates are not exactly alter boys, having been arrested for domestic violence and driving under the influence.

It’s never fun to watch to people’s lives implode. Never. But we need to let readers know when an athlete cheats on a test, steals a TV, takes a banned substance, or beats his girlfriend. Why? In hopes that another athlete will think twice before acting in this manner. So that coaches and athletic directors won’t hide egregious, immoral actions. So that boosters will be embarrassed when they get caught. But, most of all, so that young kids, fans reading about their favorite teams, will know this type of behavior is unacceptable.

Don’t worry that a coach won’t talk to you or that a sports information director won’t allow you into a game. The schools need your coverage more than you need to cover these teams – for both recruiting and accreditation. Without your school newspaper, who who will cover the soccer, cross country or volleyball teams. The local daily newspaper usually won’t do that. So what does a coach use during recruitment? Articles on the school’s Web site? Unimpressive. They’ll use your stories, especially those on the so-called minor sports.

If the coach still won’t talk to you, interview opposing coaches and players instead (sources that should always be used in game stories, precedes and features). Or, just don’t cover the games, inserting a note where you explain that coaches and players stopped talking to your newspaper after you reported an infraction.

If you learn about an infraction by the program or an athlete, make sure it is accurate Verify the details through research and interviewing. Otherwise, the story is just a rumor – and we do not want to ruin anyone’s reputation with unsubstantiated stories.