Ever since a reporter from the Athens Tablet first pulled a scroll from his tunic to interview a wrestler at Olympia, the relationship between the media and athletes has been in decline. The deterioration had been gradual until recent years, when open acrimony broke out, most notably in pro baseball, basketball and football. The sudden rush of bad blood was the result of oversensitivity and boorishness by athletes, undersensitivity and sometimes unprofessional conduct by reporters, big money, the spread of objective journalism to the sports section, and talk radio.
Happily, golf, which I frequently cover, remained relatively untouched—until now. Lately I've seen disturbing signs of erosion on the PGA Tour, a trend commissioner Tim Finchem is wisely trying to head off by telling his golfers that a misquote here or a criticism there is a small price to pay for all the free publicity they're receiving. Recently Brad Faxon fretted in this space over the signs of trouble between the press and the players (GOLF PLUS, Feb. 24). I think Faxon's one of the Tour's good guys, but he committed a cardinal sin of journalism. One of his examples of abuse by the media was the publishing of a controversial quote attributed to Tour player Mike Sullivan last year. Faxon said Sullivan's remarks were "overheard" by an eavesdropping reporter and "printed without ever talking to the player." I'm certain that was not the case because I'm that reporter.
In response to my question about NBA player Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf's refusal to stand for the national anthem, Sullivan blurted out the kind of four-alarm quote that prompts me to proceed with caution: I pulled out a notepad and made a show of jotting down the answer—a red flag to give Sullivan the chance to beg off. He didn't, though he later told me that he hadn't seen the notepad. Faxon wrote about the incident without checking with me or Sullivan, thus failing to get either side of the story and committing one of the sins that make the players howl.
Contrary to popular belief, most sportswriters have hearts. But when the players treat us like lepers, they shouldn't expect us to lick their boots. As compassion and mutual respect evaporate, our stories are more likely to become coldly objective, and the gulf only widens.
Faxon favors access but says that many of his peers disagree. I imagine that if first-graders could vote, milk would be banned from lunchrooms. Fortunately, principal Finchem knows what's best for his tykes.