Sports

What good is access to stars like Anthony Rizzo if the media doesn’t ask hard questions?

The press is doing nobody any favors by lobbing softball questions to Jason Heyward and Anthony Rizzo.

The press is doing nobody any favors by lobbing softball questions to Jason Heyward and Anthony Rizzo.
Photo: Getty Images

Shortly after sports returned from their pandemic-enforced break, all leagues announced that media interactions would not take place in the dressing rooms or clubhouse or on the field while the COVID was still ever-present. Press conferences would be conducted in a Zoom-type fashion, and ever since that moment we fans have been treated to a constant shrieking about how journalism would be forever changed and ruined if access to where players get changed wasn’t returned to the media. As with most examples of the media reporting on the media, it was treated as a crisis, even though most readers of said media would barely raise more than a barley curious “huh” if it came out tomorrow that access to the locker rooms was not coming back.

So many writers tried to explain how covering sports would be permanently mutated without it, citing their behind-the scenes stories, the way they develop relationships with players by casual talks in what is, again, the players’ private workspace, and how all the stories that are “breaking” or “in-depth” or “THE REAL STORY” would disappear without their precious access. Which ignores the fact that these types of stories haven’t really stopped since the pandemic started.

This past weekend on the North Side of Chicago was a perfect example of why no one without a press pass can locate a flying fuck to give about reporters’ access.

I suppose the “First Taking” of the entire nation reared its ugly head even more as Anthony Rizzo and Jason Heyward revealed their mealy-mouthed and mush-brained reasons for not getting the vaccine. Thanks to Skip Bayless, and as we’ve pointed out repeatedly, everything has to have two sides and a debate, which has spread into our politics and basically crippled the country into the barely ambulatory, wheezing hellbeast that it is. But there is no debate about the vaccine. You either take it, or you’re wrong, with very few exceptions. There is no “need more information,” unless you’re looking for any info that will confirm the vaccination will in fact turn you gay, and you think that’s a bad thing. There is no “what’s best for my family.” These are all wrong.

And yet as Anthony Rizzo on Friday spewed his noncommittal drivel, no one bothered to ask any follow-up questions. Here are some that immediately popped to my mind:

  • “Anthony, how is your family, which includes a very young child, safer without you being vaccinated?”
  • “Anthony, medical science saved your life when you had lymphoma. Why won’t you believe it now?”
  • “Anthony, how can you say you’re pro-vaccine and then not take the vaccine?”
  • “Anthony, you visit sick kids in cancer wards pretty much every week given your experience. Now you can’t. How does that make you feel?”

But no, there was none of that. No pushback, no challenging, just an acceptance of the tripe being sold because, and this is what the Cubs beat will tell you, they have to maintain a working relationship with Rizzo. If that “working relationship” constantly prevents a reporter from telling us anything interesting, what exactly is going on here? Or you get others pushing the Cubs propaganda about it, trying to cite their previous accomplishments as justification, which as any PR person will tell you is the absolute last thing you do in a moment of controversy. But hey, wasn’t it cool when Bill Murray was in the pressbox!

Then Jason Heyward popped up last night. Here’s something that popped into my mind, but apparently didn’t to anyone paid to cover the team:

“Jason, if you’re so worried about the fans not being vaccinated and having to go near them when chasing a fly ball, wouldn’t you be safer being vaccinated?”

But no. It was more of the following just trying to pretend that there is an actual debate and that Rizzo and Heyward had taken up just another defensible position. They haven’t, but it can feel that way when no one feels like pointing that out. And you would think in a Zoom conference or a more relaxed setting of outside a clubhouse, these kinds of questions would be easier to ask as you don’t have to face the player directly or you’re not in his office, essentially.

Certainly didn’t stop Ken Davidoff from asking Gerrit Cole a tough question and getting a story out of it. Imagine that.

The wailing about access to the players everywhere has always smacked of the nerds being granted access to the cool kids’ table and then having it yanked away and their horror at having to return to their D&D gatherings on Friday nights (and those are great!). They just miss saying they were there. Reporters in Europe have never had access to a locker room and yet have found a way to do their jobs just as effectively A shared zone would have to be worked out, and players would probably have to be forced into being a part of it more than they are now to talk in their locker room when they’re fresh out of the shower.

But the reason the media can’t get most of us to care is that access isn’t used for anything. These reporters might not cover a bigger story than how sports and COVID exist, even if that’s running out. And here they just flapped their flippers together and barked for another fish like the trained seals they mostly act like. It’s never been clear why a tough question can only be asked in a locker room. And it’s becoming more obvious that they don’t get asked there anyway.

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