Putting The Ass in Access
Los Angeles Dodger pitcher Josh Beckett recently announced his retirement, but in the immediate aftermath of his tossing a no-hitter against the Philadelphia Phillies back in May, I decided to take to “the Google” and round up some intel on this veteran hurler, who seems to have been pitching since, like, 1975. What I found out about Beckett astounded me, entry after entry of ultra-douchey, cringe-worthy selfish antics that make Alex Rodriguez look like a Boy Scout helping old ladies through a busy intersection in the snow during nuclear winter.
When listening to that game on the radio (thank you Time-Warner for restricting television viewership of Dodger Baseball the entire 2014 season to seven homes in Malibu), you heard nothing but a fawning Charley Steiner and a somewhat tongue-tied Nomar Garciaparra (who apparently received some kind of no-bid contract to overstate the obvious between pitches) drip with praise over the stellar career and amazing third act comeback of Beckett, who was left for dead after an 0-5 2013 season that saw him have season-ending surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome, which is ironically surgery to repair “a giant pain in the neck”. And I don’t begrudge them their praise. In sports, as any Michael Vick fan will tell you, all is forgiven when YOUR giant pain in the neck takes the field and slays the competition.
However, that leads to a greater question, which is why we rarely hear ANY negatives about ANY players in the game from ANY mainstream national or regional broadcast sports outlets. In fact when I came upon BleacherReport.com’s 10 most selfish players in baseball, for me it was a random list of players whom I have heard of but, had no knowledge of their back stories. Sure, we all know about the 71st round draft pick with “heart” who walked ten miles to school, uphill in the snow in both directions to play on the JV team or the “plucky” dirt-poor Dominican shortstop who fashioned a glove out of decayed lunch meat in order to hone his rangy craft. The truth is we rarely hear about the darker, fallibly human side of most players, perhaps for fear that it will jostle the giant pedestals we have erected for them.
And that might be the right thing to do if you are Major League Baseball. After all, knowing that John Lackey was cheating on his wife while she was undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer will probably not click additional turnstiles at Fenway or Busch Stadium, but isn’t that news? Aren’t baseball players held up as role models for the community? Is John Lackey’s gingrichesque antics better left unilluminated? Is that or is that not news? Is Adam Wainwright’s soft toss to Derek Jeter during the All Star Game a non-story or a ridiculous incident of see-no-evilishness reserved for stars who’s lights must burn bright to attract fans, viewers and advertisers?
So, you may ask, isn’t it the “medias’ job”’ to offer insight into the behind the scenes goings on, dirty or otherwise? With round-the-clock sports networks proliferating like dung beetles sporting conspiratorial, “you are there” names that often include buzzwords like “inside” and “behind” and “extra” right up there in the title, you would think we might have the teeniest, tiniest peak inside the dirty goings on, especially when some of these mega-rich stars play visible roles in the community. After all if Alec Baldwin is reported acting like a knob (as he so often is) in a hot minute, why is the same sort of douchiness tolerated (read: under-reported) in most professional sports (PED-scandals excepted). And since PED-scandals seem to be the exception to that rule, are they really only limited to the couple dozen players suspended last year?
In 2013, ESPN and Turner Broadcasting signed a $4.8 billion dollar deal with Major League Baseball for the rights to broadcast season and playoff baseball games through 2021. In a world where biting the hand that feeds you perhaps would be considered catastrophic “business suicide”, ESPN, FOX, TBS and every local cable network has paid a princely sum to broadcast baseball, but inherent in that contract is access. Access to players for interviews, promotional spots, appearances, sponsorships, charitable causes, public relations and so on. There is no benefit and certainly detriment to referring to AJ Pierzynski’s antics as anything but “competitive” even if he is roundly considered the most hated player in baseball. Access is everything (witness Lebron and D. Wade sitting forlornly through a press Q&A seconds after their blowout in the NBA Finals… could LeBron have tried any harder to wish he was somewhere else??) Inherent in all that access is a bit of complicity where actions hurtful to the “business” of the game should be downplayed if not just completely unreported. After all, there will be plenty of time to talk about that stuff after they are retired. Ty Cobb played until 1928 and he inevitably was exposed for the uber-racist he was in a movie. In 1994!
This talk of “access” extends to the political arena, where the implications are, if you talk shit about us we withhold our presence from your news-pundit division. And even one step further, isn’t there implied “access” when political action committees, now free to spend whatever amount of money they wish, strategize to spend in markets where they truly can afford to “own” the airwaves with media buys advancing their particular cause? Isn’t it just a short hop to consider that when an individual’s specific point of view accounts for a significant portion of a stations’ advertising revenue that that individual now owns “access” and may, at some point, choose to influence the content of other programming on said channel? Haven’t creationists attempted to ban episodes of “Cosmos” dealing with evolution on local FOX stations in creationist-oriented states like Kansas and Oklahoma? Sure, the Supreme Court decision that one commercial or a million commercials on any given TV station are considered free speech, but at some point, isn’t it possible that the sheer financial influence of opinionated advertisers and the access it commands influence the very content of the programming?. Honestly, why not just cut out the middleman and buy the station, said Rupert Murdoch.
Perhaps nothing that conspiratorial is happening just yet in sports, but when a significant amount of money is spent for content and inherent in that contract is a certain understanding that you don’t shit where you eat when it comes to the off-field antics of your “product”, it makes you wonder what kind of path the media is heading down. After all, you can’t spell ass without access.