I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve heard how “tough” and “brutal” the New York media are toward athletes, but I’ve never found that to be the case. For instance, the 1986 Mets were about the scummiest bunch of individuuals ever assembled on a sports team, but you’d never have known that from reading the New York papers back in 1986. It wasn’t until years later we finally started hearing about what Kevin Mitchell, Darryl Strawberry & Co. were really like.
Turning our attention to the Midwest… for years, sportswriters told us what a saint Kirby Puckett was. Countless times, I read or heard variations on “If only there were more players like Kirby Puckett, baseball would be America’s favorite pastime again.” In reality, we know now that Kirby Puckett was FAR from the plaster saint that writers told us he was. Indeed, he would’ve fit in neatly with the 1986 Mets.
I could give many other examples, but you see where I’m going. Writers regularly sing the praises of athletes who turn out to be slimy characters. And it seems to me, there are only two explanations possible for this phenomenon:
A) Writers don’t really know squat about what players are up to outside the stadium.
B) They know, but choose not to tell their readers.
Of course, I can offer variations on both theories. Such as…
A1. Writers who don’t really have a clue whether the athletes they cover are heroes or villains will simply parrot what they hear other writers saying (“EVERYBODY says Kirby Puckett is a sweetheart, and they can’t all be wrong”).
A2. Many writers don’t know or care what an athlete is really like- they care only whether an athlete is cooperative with the press, whether he’s always ready to give reporters a smile and a quote. Thanks to guys like this, Eddie Murray (a good person, by most accounts, whose only character flaw was saying nothing to the press) was regularly described as a surly thug, while Kirby Puckett (a creep and a lecher) was painted as an angel, because he was always ready to kiss writers’ backsides.
B1. Writers NEED players to cooperate with them, to talk to them. And they know that if they ever embarrass a player in print, players will stop talking to them. Without quotes from players, these guys would be forced to rely on their own writing skills… and you know how pitiful those writing skills usually are! So, many writers decided that it’s far more important to be liked by players than to tell their readers the truth.
Any other theories I haven’t considered?