SBJ/October 24 - 30, 2005/Other News

Focusing on perception of athletes

Panel: How Media Coverage Affects and Impacts the Perception of Sports and Today’s Athlete

Christine Brennan, Kellen Winslow (center) and panel moderator Daniel Okrent.
Moderator: Daniel Okrent, former New York Times public editor

Panelists: Terry McDonell, managing editor, Sports Illustrated; Christine Brennan, columnist, USA Today; Phil de Picciotto, president of athletes and personalities, Octagon; ESPN’s Stuart Scott; and Kellen Winslow, director of planning and new event development, Disney Sports Attractions

McDonell: “When I look across the landscape, what I see is a celebrity landscape that very much now mirrors what came ahead of sports in show business, where you have celebrities who are sophisticated enough … that they use the media and their celebrity to sell this or that.”

De Picciotto, on creating relationships between the media and players: “The problem is specifically the limitation of access. When you limit access, when you tell the media that they can’t do something … you’re creating exactly the problem that you don’t want to have.”

Winslow: “It’s a trust factor, that you’re going to take what I say in the context in which I mean it and you’re going to communicate it.”

Brennan: “I think the problem is like with the presidential election in 2004 with the bloggers and all the stuff going on. There are so many people out there armed now with a computer and a Web site that they are dragging all of us down.”

McDonell: “The idea that the media is really owed something is really a false thing that people throw around.”

Panel: Defining the Athlete’s Role In Society: Role Model, Promotional Vehicle Or All of the Above?

Moderator: Lesley Visser, reporter, CBS Sports

Panelists: Johann Olav Koss, president and CEO, Right To Play; Pam Wheeler, director of operations, Women’s National Basketball Players Association; Zina Garrison, founder, All Court Tennis Academy; Steve Mills, president and COO, MSG Sports; Jim Scherr, CEO, U.S. Olympic Committee

Mills: “Athletes, whether they like it or not, are role models. … And I think as executives in organizations, our responsibilities to the athletes is to make sure that we educate them and position them in a way that they are able to embrace that and use it.”

Scherr: “Athletes have to be careful to not market themselves as perfect human beings, as the ultimate role model, and build a marketing machine around that because everybody’s human and everybody makes mistakes. I think that’s a real trap that athletes, teams and sports entities fall into.”

Koss: “The media is getting more and more aggressive in the sense of getting the stories out there. … I think that puts a much larger responsibility on the athletes in a sense where you have to really live an error-less life.”

Garrison: “Especially individual sports, you don’t really have that opportunity to decide who you are. The public decides who you are and then the media or the sponsorship comes around it and they try to form the package. In all of that it creates very strong pressure.”

Panel: The Role That Sports Plays In Society

Sports Illustrated’s Terry McDonell says sports has become more like show business.
Moderator: Len Elmore, senior counsel, LeBoeuf, Lamb, Greene & McRae

Panelists: Myles Brand, president, NCAA; Julie Foudy, former co-captain, U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team; Ozzie Smith, 2002 Baseball Hall of Fame inductee; Rob Manfred, executive vice president/labor relations, Major League Baseball; Sean McManus, president, CBS Sports

Brand: “We have to understand that sports by itself will not get social change done, nor will it come without controversy. Let me name two historically and critically important such changes. One was Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier. That was a step towards civil rights, but it certainly didn’t get us all the way there. And despite Jackie Robinson’s incredibly courageous actions, it was highly controversial and it took a long time after that. The other historically important issue I would point to is Title IX. Title IX by itself did not create a level playing field — to use that metaphor — for women in society and the workplace. And it didn’t come and still doesn’t come without controversy, but it does begin to shape the challenges and make some important differences. It is a statement.”

McManus, on the media’s coverage of unfavorable events: “We look at ourselves as reporters of what is going on in sports and we try to put on the screen what we think is the most entertaining. There are times when we are definitely at fault, as are newspapers and news programs, of highlighting not the best, but the worst. … In a lot of ways, television is part of the problem, but it is also a potential cure for the problem.”

Smith, on players’ responsibilities: “We have an inherent responsibility, whether we want it or not, to present ourselves in a very positive way. I think it starts with having pride in who you are and what you do. If you have pride in what you do, then you take on that challenge as a professional athlete. … I’ve always taken [my responsibilities] very seriously knowing that the young people who sit down and watch us perform day in and day out, we have a direct impact on the way they see things in society.”

Brand, on organizational responsibilities: “We put too much emphasis on the responsibilities of athletes. They do have responsibilities. They are accountable. But sometimes I think we forget another level of accountability and that is organization or team accountability. … The organization itself has a level of accountability or responsibility that is often overlooked to the degree of its importance because we so pick on the individual athletes and single them out that we forget that they are not operating in a vacuum.”

Foudy, on the need for more women in executive roles: “I think it is critical. We have seen the impact women can have by being great athletes on the field and the impact that can have on young girls. … The same rings true for the business place. You need something that is tangible, that you can … relate to.”

McManus, on performance-enhancing drugs: “Taking steroids is cheating. And just like Bernie Ebbers at MCI or Kenneth Lay at Enron, they had a choice. They could have run their businesses honestly or they could have cheated. They felt that by cheating they would give their companies a big advantage and make more money, so they made that decision. It is the same decision an athlete makes, whether to cheat or play fairly. … If you don’t play the game fairly, you should be out of the game. Period. And if you cheat in business, you go to jail.”

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