Veteran sportswriter Pat Jordan wrote a fascinating piece for Slate, describing how the relationship between athletes and journalists has changed. Thirty years ago, when Sports Illustrated wanted him to write a piece on an athlete like Catfish Hunter, he’d spend a few days talking to his subject and following him around. Now, players work hard to keep writers at a distance.
This has become the curse of modern sports journalism. Writers and fans alike no longer get to know the object of their affections in a way they did years ago. Athletes see us as their adversaries, not as allies in their achievements. They are as much celebrities as rock stars and Hollywood actors are. They live insular lives behind a wall of publicists, agents, and lawyers. They don’t interact with fans or writers. They mingle only with other celebrities at Vegas boxing matches, South Beach nightclubs, and celebrity golf events, all behind red-velvet VIP ropes. We can only gawk at them as if at an exotic, endangered species at a zoo.
That’s one of the reasons why magazines are dying, because the quality of the articles is declining. It’s not that writers can no longer write, but as Jordan puts it, “magazine writers are forced to churn out inconsequential puff pieces to satisfy those stars’ publicists, or else the publicists will withhold their other clients from that magazine.”