The Etiquette of Gossip and Sports

I’ve always been, at least in part, against pulling gossip and drama into the world of sports, especially if A. the gossip has nothing to do with the player’s performance in the game, B. is being published without the consent of the player to talk abouft it, or C. it’s all speculative and there to generate ‘clicks’ instead of having any sort of journalistic integrity.

That aside, there’s definitely a place for gossip in sports. The audience demands it, and if a sports site wants views over their competition, they’ll publish the drama or gossip.

But I think that there is a line that needs to be observed. Aaron Rodgers specifically said that he doesn’t think that it’s appropriate to discuss family matters publicly – I think it was pretty rude of the reporter to continue on with the story against his direct wishes.

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NY Times

Regardless of what the audience wants, there needs to be a standard of ethics in sports reporting where, if an athlete declines to comment or says that they don’t want to discuss the issue, you don’t push the bar on it unless it’s an issue that affects people other than himself and his family.

For example, if a player rapes somebody, they absolutely should be pushed on the issue and exposed for what they did; but on the flip side, if they and their family are caught arguing in public, why does that scream ‘newsworthy’ to people? It’s none of your business, and they don’t need to involve you in their drama.

As another example: if a player is clearly extremely uncomfortable about a question you’re asking him or her (especially if it it’s unrelated), you should recognize that as a reporter and back off a bit, not keep pushing. Take Brandon Saad’s recent interview about the travel ban from the White House.

brandon-saad
CBS Pittsburgh

His family is from Syria, so it makes sense that a reporter would be asking him how he feels about the travel ban. But when he was asked about the ban, he deflected and looked uncomfortable, saying that he didn’t want to comment. At that point, the reporter should back off and ask about other things.

(Although, something that came out literally just as I was writing this post was that Saad’s father, a Syrian immigrant, supports the immigration ban. That gives a little bit more weight to Saad’s neglecting to comment – either because he holds what he sees as an unpopular opinion, or just because it’s pretty ingrained in hockey to not talk about politics as often as in, say, basketball. Since Saad’s father initiated the conversation, I think it’s fine for this to be published. He opened up the gates for the reporters to talk about it, not the other way around.)

So, gossip exists in sports. It almost has to exist, because the nature of sports is that it is a competition, and that itself breeds drama and publicity. I mean, take any reality show where there is a winner and a loser, for instance. There’s a treasure trove of drama there, and that’s what people are excited to see.

But in sports, I think it needs to be a bit more managed. A player shouldn’t be forced to comment on something if it’s obvious that he is uncomfortable, and the reporter shouldn’t try to dig up stories just for the publicity, especially if it’s not relevant to the sport.

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