Bobbing for Stories

The black Escalade pulled out of the apartment complex.  I kept a safe distance, not wanting to tip off the prey.  Suddenly, my target gunned the throttle, and hung a hard left on Meridian. Tires screeching, it made its way north…to Carmel!

Yesterday, Bob Kravitz of the Indianapolis Star expressed his displeasure over the fact that the Colts were holding secret workouts.  He specifically targeted his ire at Peyton Manning:

I’m looking for the right words to characterize the players’ — and by that, I mean Manning’s — insistence on working out in utter secrecy, keeping fans and media at bay.

Ridiculous.

Dumb.

Idiotic.

Harsh words, indeed.  He goes on to attack Manning on several other fronts related to media access: the birth of kids, his commercials, his selective use of the media to promote charitable causes and clear up misunderstandings.

The green turn arrow had changed to yellow, and the red was already bleeding. Taking my life in my hands, I gripped the wheel of my ’95 Civic and willed the car through intersection.  My target was rapidly escaping, but I had filled up on 91 octane gas that morning, and wrung more speed out of my Honda than it had shown in years.  With my odometer tipping at nearly 50 miles an hour, I prayed to Saint Jude and hung on tight.

Kravitz’s story irritated fans, but he had people jump to his defense. Paul Kuharsky gave a list of questions he thinks Manning should answer:

  • Why is it so important to be so clandestine?
  • Why won’t a guy whose name is on the lawsuit determining what happens to football not up for commenting on it?
  • What would it hurt to, at infrequent times convenient for you, talk with the local media and let your fans hear from you?
  • Don’t you think the media has respected your privacy in a way that deserves you throw it a bone a bit more often in exchange?
  • Brad Wells jumped in on the story as well:

    All of these things are very secretive, and the Colts would prefer that no one know anything about them. Some fans agree with this, saying people should just shut up and cheer when they win. The irony is these same people are saying this on a blog whose sole purpose for existing is talking about events and information that the Colts themselves prefer no one discuss.

    As I have often droned on and on about, the Colts treatment of media and fans is pretty abysmal. Coverage of the team very inferior, especially when you look at smaller markets (like Green Bay) and how the team and media interact. I used to blame all this on local media (like the Star), but being on the other of things has opened my eyes on this issue. The fault on the lack of quality coverage falls squarely on the Colts. They want it this way, and all it does is shortchange fans like me.

    We had traveled nearly 10 miles through the serpentine streets of Indianapolis.  It was difficult to track the target through all the tricky 90 degree turns to the secret complex deep in the heart of Hamilton County. When at last the Escalade pulled into the parking lot, I knew I had uncovered the secret that the world begged to know…

     

    There are so many issues raised here, I scarcely know where to start.  First, let’s all be clear: this is a media issue.  I have never, not once, had a Colts fan tell me, “I wish the Colts did more interviews with reporters!”  The fact is that outside of a very small minority of fans and media people, the general public has more Colts’ information than they need or consume.

    What strikes me as odd about Kravitz’s original piece is that he is a reporter.  If he wants to know where the Colts are practicing, then he should do some investigative reporting and find out.  It boggles my mind why a journalist should ever complain about a secret, let alone one that quite frankly wouldn’t be hard to uncover with a couple of days worth of leg work.  Kravitz goes so far as to ask fans to help him find out where the Colts are practicing.  I can’t possibly imagine that it would be that difficult to find out if he really wanted to know.

    The truth is that at the heart of Kravitz’s complaint is that he’s offended because the media isn’t invited.  He doesn’t want to chase players all over town. He, and with good reason, feels the players should welcome the media in to what they are doing. The idea is that by shutting the media out, the players are shutting the fans out. The fans suffer because they don’t know what is happening with Colts’ workouts.

    I slipped behind a massive SUV with tinted windows.  It was one of a dozen such vehicles in the parking lot.  My subject tossed long blond hair carelessly…oh, so sexy…and entered the complex.  It looked like there was a guard at the door.  I’d have to find another way in.

    The truth is that Colts’ players have said in interviews repeatedly in recent weeks that they were working out in an undisclosed location. Anyone who was paying attention knew the workouts were going on, and frankly, what makes a better story: secret workouts or complaining about secret workouts?  From a fan’s perspective, the idea that Manning, Clark, and company are holed up somewhere in secret is way more entertaining than what’s actually happening. 

    Reality, on the other hand, is BORING.  The Colts are running a few drills. They are running routes and passing trees, and Manning is throwing the ball. Curtis Painter is there to mop Peyton’s brow from time to time.  Guys are lifting a few weights, jogging, and going to lunch. The less we know about these secret workouts, the better.  It’s way more fun to guess what they might be doing than to know.  Kravitz mentions Eli Manning’s workouts which were open to the media. The media spent the whole time complaining about them.

    Kravitz got more attention from his story about how Manning won’t tell him anything than he ever would have writing about what’s actually going in these secret workouts.  The reason he hasn’t spent a day tailing the punter around town to learn where he’s going is because he doesn’t really want to know. He knows that the truth is way less interesting than the myth.

    There are scores of reasons to have closed practices, including:

    • Security.  Unlike training camps, these workouts are being paid for privately.  Hiring security guards to keep fans safe and in line is expensive.  Secret is cheaper.
    • Hassle. These are voluntary workouts.  Guys don’t have to be doing them, so it’s natural they would want as low key an environment as possible
    • Lack of distraction. They are working. Maybe they just want to work without a bunch of people hounding them. 

    Frankly, the more serious and focused the environment, the better.  I want Manning to be free to say whatever he wants to whoever he wants however he wants to say it during these workouts.  If they were public dog and pony shows, I would question whether they were even accomplishing anything at all. I’d rather the Colts get some real work done in private than I would have my curiosity satisfied.  Most of these workouts are a waste of time, but something tells me Manning’s might just be more effective than most.

    I slipped around to the back. There was a loading dock where bottles of sports drink were being unpacked.  Vile dogs, I thought. A workman spotted me.  Fortunately, I was wearing standard journalist attire, so he mistook me for a hobo. When he wasn’t looking, I slipped in through the service entrance.  I made my way down a hall to pair of glass doors.  What I saw inside chilled me to the bone…

    The rest of Kravitz’s column reads like a critique of the media itself.  The media turned the birth of Manning’s kids into a week long affair. The media reported a joke Manning told out of context. The media made a story of out it. The media then ‘saved’ Manning by reporting his clarification. Manning is blessed to receive privacy from the media who has every right to pry into what he does because he makes a lot of commercials.

    It’s all nonsense, of course.  Famous people often have to sacrifice privacy, yes. That doesn’t mean it’s right.  Ashley Manning had twins. If you’ve ever met a pregnant woman, you know that they last thing you do is question the way she conducts her pregnancy or cares for her twins. If she wants the story to be a secret, that’s her choice. Period.  The rest of us have no say in the matter, no grounds to criticize her, no valid complaints, no matter how many times her husband says, “Cut that meat!”.  I simply do not buy the fact that because someone is famous they owe the media anything. 

    The media doesn’t cover Peyton Manning out of the goodness of their hearts. They don’t cover his charity work or every word he says because they are being nice to him. They do it because they make money when he talks.

    Kuharsky’s questions are fair, but they miss the mark. Manning doesn’t have to talk to the local media so the fans can hear from him.  He doesn’t barely need the local media at all.  He can call any reporter in the country, and his fans will hear from him just fine.  I love the Indy Star as much as the next guy, but I don’t need them to hear from Peyton Manning.  No fan needs the local media to hear from players, anymore. That’s just the point. Last night, I watched Pat McAfee interview Gary Brackett from a makeshift studio in his bedroom. In the mother of all ironies, McAfee asked Kravitz to come on HIS show.

    Ultimately, athletes and fans don’t need the local media. Lots of local media does a great job covering the team.  I’m thankful for the guys at the Star, and local TV and radio. They do good work.  At the end of the day, however, we need to dispense with the idea that athletes NEED us in the media for anything.  They don’t.  This is the flaw with Brad Well’s argument.  The fans aren’t short changed because the Colts keep things hush-hush. The vast majority of fans already have far more information than they use.  Is it bad for blogs that the bigwigs at West 56th don’t open things up?  Absolutely.  It sucks for me. It sucks for Brad.  But for 97% of fans, it makes absolutely no difference.

    Information is a commodity.  The Colts don’t need the support of local media now, so they control it tightly.  May there come a time when they’ll be begging for people to pay attention to them? I hope not, but it could happen.  However, when it does many of the same people they pissed off now with their secrecy will already have moved on to other gigs.  Will the Star even be here in five years?  Will Kravitz?  Will Brad Wells? Will Nate Dunlevy?  I have no idea what media will look like in five years when Peyton retires, and the Colts actually need ask people to pay attention to them, but I suspect fans will need the media to learn about the team less than ever.

    The truth is that the Colts can treat the media however they want because the minute they snap their fingers, we’ll all come running. Why? Because they make us money.  I suspect they always will.  Should they treat local media better? They could.  I don’t believe it would make fans like the team any more. I don’t think it would make fans smarter or better.  It would entertain some of us and give us more to talk about, I guess.  It would certainly be good for local media. It wouldn’t sell more tickets (those are all sold out). It certainly wouldn’t bring another Lombardi trophy to Indianapolis.

    If being secretive helps at all…at all…on any level…to bring another title to Indy, I’m all for it.  Even if it doesn’t, I don’t begrudge the team for creating an interest in everything they do and say.  They’ve turned access into a commodity.

    It’s smart business if nothing else.

    Drive fast, Pat. Don’t let him catch you.

    The punter had led me straight to them.  The secret den of the secret practices of the secretive Indianapolis Colts. They couldn’t keep me away.  I had uncovered the biggest secret of all: men in shorts running around. 

    It was hard work, but I did it for the fans!

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