Why we don’t need to know who asked Tim Tebow for an autograph
So the sports media finds itself in its own crosshairs yet again, this time because a couple media dudes apparently asked Tim Tebow for an autograph in the locker room Sunday night before (or perhaps after) the Broncos-Bengals game. To quote Sam Kinison (who was talking about marriage): what a dumb, stupid, high thing to fucking do. It’s a total lapse of professional judgment, a move that undercuts all the hard work that journalists do in trying to remain unbiased and in service of the story rather than the athlete. (Though judging from the comments on Farrar’s story, I’m not sure why we bother.)
There’s a move afoot to name the names of the two journalists — one a newspaper reporter, one a photographer — and publicly shame them for their idiocy. On the surface it seems like a good idea, but just below the surface, it’s a horrible, career-wrecking one. I’m just fine with these guys staying anonymous.
Well, let me rephrase that. I’m fine with these guys staying anonymous under certain conditions. Why? Because I was once in their shoes. I had no formal journalism training — shocking, I know — and everything I learned was from observing and, to some extent, guessing about protocol. I was never taken into a locker room and taught, “This is how you behave; this is when you talk and don’t talk; this is how you approach a surly superstar; this is what you do and don’t do.” I just got handed my first press pass, wandered in, and figured it out as I went along.
Which led to this colossal idiocy: early on in my career, while covering a Penny Hardaway charity basketball event, I decided to start getting autographs from the players in attendance. Nobody had ever told me NOT to, I was an insane NBA freak at the time, and there was no NO AUTOGRAPHS message on my press pass (as there is now on every one, bolded and outlined). So I wandered from Nick Anderson to Dennis Scott to Nick Van Exel to Jimmy King, getting all of them to sign for me. Then I went up to Penny himself and asked him for an autograph. He looked at me like I’d just thrown up on his Nikes and said, “Not for media.”
It was the first refusal of the night, and it was the last time I asked a ballplayer for an autograph. Because with a moment’s reflection, I realized how monumentally stupid I’d been in asking, what a line I’d crossed. And if Twitter had been around then — hell, if the Internet had been around then — and if some douchey blogger had wanted to rat me out, I’d have been screwed.
On the Internet, your fuckups last forever. If the poor dumb bastards who asked Tebow for his autograph are a couple of early-twenties kids who don’t know any better, this is going to torpedo their chances of getting a job in sports media for all time. Deadspin’s going to plaster these guys’ names, mock them for a day or so, and be done with them — but that story will be out there forever for anyone to search on. And that’s a stiff price to pay for a little hero worship.
Now, the other side of this is if the guys asking for the autograph were longtime news vets. In that case, I say throw open the curtains and let the light shine in. I’m with Farrar on this one; for as much crap as bloggers take for being unprofessional (and for not having access), this shows that not everybody with access is a cool, confident pro. Newspaper credentials don’t automatically grant you a higher degree of professionalism than the stereotypical dude-in-his-mom’s-basement. (Speaking of which–Ma! Can you bring me some cookies?)
Still, bottom line, let’s not draw and quarter these guys. We can all make mistakes, large and small. We’re all human.
Well, except Tebow. But you knew that already.