Isaiah Thomas’ Players’ Tribune piece was a courageous exploration into his past, his present and his future rife with emotion and authenticity you could not get anywhere else. It was a first-person account that would have any Cavs fan eager to rush out and buy his #3 jersey. It was full of unbridled hope for a speedy return.
Isaiah Thomas’ press conference a day later was an awkward, jumbled mess of non-answers, deflections and a highlighted reality that his comeback trail will likely be a long and arduous one for Cavs fans. A ‘Q and A’ session without the ‘A’ that likely left some fans with buyer’s remorse on a franchise-altering trade.
Two different accounts presented less than 24 hours apart. Two very different takeaways. Fans were encouraged Wednesday at the thought of a comeback story. Fans were dejected Thursday with the lingering thought of damaged goods.
Welcome to the evolving world of sports media in 2017.
When it comes to star players and millionaire athletes, they have now comfortably transitioned into the journalism world with the ability to go direct-to-consumers. They report, you decide. And it’s become a big business. Fashioned in 2014, the Players’ Tribune provided a brand new platform that went further than Twitter and Instagram. It allowed athletes to provide their perspective in their own words, connecting the larger-than-life figures you see on TV with fans in their own homes. By eliminating the middle man — traditional media — no athlete could ever say their words were taken out of context again. They couldn’t blame agendas from beat reporters with an axe to grind, or columnists needing clicks. They were conveying their stories literally in their own words.
When Russell Wilson and Kevin Love penned their first words in the Player’s Tribune, I was immediately drawn in. Colorful storytelling mixed with humanizing accounts made it a fun alternative to the typical journalism we had all grown accustomed to. One of my favorite editions was from Dion Waiters, who I had met and covered over the span of six years spanning two different cities. I might have learned more in one journal than I had by following him by conventional methods. This showed the use and power of new media.
The setup has been successful too. It’s gone through multiple rounds of funding, recently raising another $40 million in capital bringing total funding to $58 million. It is now up to 1,200 contributors according to a recent Forbes write up. Its model is a marketing dream: Direct engagement with consumers. And fans are consuming – to the tune of 100 million content views a month and growing as of last January
Only one problem: It’s just a source. And just like a politician calling a press conference for the purpose of damage control, there can be inherent biases and agendas. In the first week of news reporting, students are taught that three sources are needed to run a story. In fact, they are also taught that a statement from police should not be taken as gospel, instead just another source. This is the marrow that good journalism is built on.
Today, consumers are tasked with the responsibility of absorbing the news and also evaluating its origins. Some are much better than others and dong this, as evidenced by the “fake news” phenomenon that’s ravaged our news purveyors.
In sports, teams have press conferences almost weekly during the season and periodically during off-seasons. When coaches are hired and fired, fans seem to be preoccupied with playing press conference scoreboard. Did your team “win” or “lose” the press conference? I prefer my team win on the actual field or court, but that’s just me.
Thursday in Cleveland was supposed to be just another press conference. Anytime new players have their jerseys ready to present with their names and numbers stitched on, it’s supposed to be a celebratory event. Instead, it became confrontational. Smiles quickly morphed into uncomfortable expressions. A helpless Isaiah Thomas could not provide a time table and young GM Koby Altman could not talk his way out of the firing squad. It was awkward and it was adversarial. Even without specifics, you likely learned more about the timetable for Isaiah Thomas’ return from that press conference than you did in his 3,500-word essay.
Simply put: the media did their job.
I know it has become vogue to rip traditional media. Heck I do it all the time and I am a part of it. Our way of doing things is antiquated and many journalists struggle with making the transition. Many have jumped ship. But the Cavs press conference was all the evidence you should ever need that they still play a valuable role, or at the very least, a role.
To steal a line from Colonel Jessep in A Few Good Men, deep down in places you don’t talk about at parties, you need traditional media on that wall.
Whether you prefer old media, or new media in sports journalism, it is a beautiful thing that you have so many alternatives.
And in the end, you get to decide.