Public Image 101
The Cubs players’ outbursts against the media, against umpires, and against other players in the 2004 season has been a continuing storyline filled with silly action that would make a Michael Bay movie seem slow-paced and well thought out.
Volumes could be written about this behavior, but I want to focus on the athletes wearing Cubbie blue this year and their relationship with the media. At this point in major media history, it is the job of a journalist to make public any flaws he or she discovers in an athlete. With that in mind, it becomes part of a player’s job not to speak with the media, but to handle them as a politician would.
That’s difficult. Imagine having to speak with members of the media whom you have known since you were twenty years old; people around whom you have begun to feel comfortable. They travel with you on the road. They see you after every game. Whatever you do for a living — work in an office, deal drugs out of your back seat, teach in a classroom, whatever — imagine having those people in your lives.
Now imagine you’ve had a tough day. You just walked out of a meeting where you were told that you had to fire two members of your staff for reasons you do not agree with. On top of that, one of your co-workers at the same level is going through a rough patch at home and he’s not pulling his weight. You’ve tried to help him out for about a month by sharing some of his workload, but it’s starting to get on your nerves. In the meeting, you just had to cover his butt again.
When you walk out the door of the office, bedraggled, hungry, and emotionally worn down, a reporter you’ve known for years and has treated you fairly starts asking you how it’s going at work. He talks with you at length; it gets conversational, and you start to open up a little.
He’s had a rough patch and has writer’s block. He has nothing to write about, so he makes public your lamentations.
That’d piss you off, so maybe you spout off the next time you see him. He, in turn, starts griping to his reporter buddies. The other guys start researching, and publishing, his complaints about you. Now, because of one bad day, three different stories about you being a jerk at work are in three different papers.
It’s that quick and easy to mess up your public image. Is that what happened to the Cubs players this year? I doubt it. They’ve thrown out more conspiracies than Oliver Stone. But you can see how easy an acrimonious relationship between a player and reporter could begin. I want to take it easy on these Cubs. Sosa, Mercker, Alou, Dusty Baker, and others have all sniped with reporters or announcers, and none of it is excusable, but apart from the ridiculous attacks on Steve Stone, most of it could be conceivably arrived at by the imaginary scenario I outlined above.
THAT BEING SAID:
There is a simple formula to using the media to your advantage:
1) guard your words when a reporter is present
2) keep problems inside the clubhouse
3) speak ill of someone only if you want to send a message.
That’s it. That’s all you have to do.
Speaking to a reporter is like having a Public Address system on whenever you’re in public. If the Cubs had kept that in mind, they wouldn’t have made public the following follies:
1) “Umpires are squeezing our team or are out to get me individually”
2) “Our announcers are making us look bad”
3) “My manager doesn’t support me”
All that’s just in the last month. All year, Cubs have been shooting their mouths off to the media. Imagine every reporter as a PA system and you will not talk yourself into trouble.
There are times when the media can be used to help; times when a team leader or the manager wants to tear into a player if he knows it will motivate that player. Or when he wants to attempt to get into an opponent’s head. Same thing: if you see the media as a PA system, you get your message out.
REPORTERS ARE NOT THERE TO BE DRINKING BUDDIES. Or therapists. Or vigilantes out to pursue justice. They will not turn off the mic if they know you’re just frustrated after a bad game. Many different Cubs players, and their manager as well, have gone boo-hooing to the media. I do not know what they were expecting to happen, but it couldn’t be what actually did happen: they alienated the media and many of their fans.
It takes discipline to change one’s perspective like this, but most Cubs players would benefit from seeing members of the media as public address systems, capable only of carrying a message.