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The Chicago Bears, NFL Football, and The Media: An Evolution in Progress

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I recently got into a brief discussion with a fellow WCG member about  Lovie Smith and his  (in my opinion) lack of ability to directly answer questions posed to him by the media.  My take was that Lovie and the organization owe us (the fans) some answers.  The counter point to my argument was that Lovie just owes us (the fans) results on the field.  I think I lost that battle, but I think (unfortunately) I’ll win the war.  To me, the heart of this issue is how much accountability does a team owe its fans to answer those questions through the media?  

The members of the "old school" line of thinking would say "none" and in my heart they’d be correct.  However the definition of media is continually evolving.  But to anyone who sees that the media drives a sport through the glorification of its athletes and the immortalization of its moments the answer might be that they owe us "Everything".  I think the truth lies somewhere in between.  Before you make "the jump" you need to recognize that this, and any post you place in reply, are now considered "media".  As they should be. 

If I can’t "keep up" with a Bears game that isn’t being broadcast in my area, by logging on here during an "In Game Thread" and posting the right questions, I can keep up as easily as searching any other venue. The paradigm is shifting fans, and bloggers now drive the news as much as anything. Don’t believe me? Traditionally, the media offered the fans the only chance to truly appreciate sports.  If you didn't read the newspaper, how did you get the box scores for the league?  Eventually you heard them on the radio but you were still removed from the experience.  You still relied on the reporters to give you the story.  And the story was the game.  It was stats and results, nothing more.  If reporters gave their opinion it certainly wasn't why you were paying attention to them to begin with.  You wanted the results.  

With the evolution of radio, and eventually television, the media began to take a larger role in our appreciation of sports.  Now we got the story directly from "them".  If you knew what you were doing (on radio) you painted the picture.  And on TV you suddenly provided insight.  You gave fans that "behind the scenes" glance into what they actually just witnessed.  Suddenly the opinions of the media mattered.  The media knew more than we could merely see.  They could give us insight into what was happening.  Before, during, and after we saw it. 


The media began to drive the sport itself.  With the explosion of ESPN in 1979, the media became larger than any one sport.  It became sports of every kind imaginable available 24/7.   Sports media became its own market.  Did the media still need the sport?  Sure.  But how much did the sport need the media?  Just ask the AFL and the media’s role in the merger.  Heck, just look at Joe Namath.  How much did he use the media to send a message?  How much did the media use him to send one of their own?  How did all that change the game?  Now the NFL has its own network to give you even more of its product in more ways than George Halas ever thought possible.  We can analyze football, the players, the games, and just about anything you can think of every minute of the day.


Now we enter the age of the internet.  Media 24/7 and MORE.  Now players are being followed both on and off the field.  Continually.  Constantly.  Always scrutinized.  Always being evaluated.  For how they act, how they behave, and how they REACT to the media around them.  Is that right?  Do they deserve such criticism?  Look at how many of his own  colleagues used the social media of Twitter to weigh in on Jay Cutler's performance in the NFC championship game.  The story was a story before any "real" reporters even got their hands on it.  It was becoming a story as the game was being played.  The media was weighing in at WCG in the in game thread.  You see when you post your opinion for others to read here at this fine website you have become part of the media.  Small market? Perhaps.  But we’re growing.  


Now back to Lovie Smith, Jay Cutler, and the Bears organization.  The medical staff, during the NFC championship game, told Jay Cutler he couldn’t play.  But we the fans don’t get this information until more than 24 hours had passed.  Why leave your starting quarterback open to unfair criticism by the media?  Why not be more forthcoming and bring it up in the post game press conference?  Does Lovie Smith simply not get how fast media moves these days?  The entire media had weighed in on Jay and made up their minds about his performance and his injury before Lovie even called for a press conference. 


Then there was the Chris Williams debacle. Entering the draft he was flagged by other teams as a medical risk due to previous disc issues.  Then the  Bears training staff found out that Chris Williams had a herniated disc at the beginning of training camp. All camp long they kept saying he’d only miss a little time. Then it became half the season (which became essentially the whole season).  Then after camp we found out the Bears organization finally acknowledged that he'd had similar injuries when they drafted him but had been hoping that those injuries wouldn't become an issue.  Although this was a new injury, the entire preseason people had been questioning the choice of Williams due to the known disc issues.  Where were the straight answers?  Why the smoke and mirrors?


We also had the Bears dancing around with the media during Cedric Benson’s did he/didn’t he drive drunk fiasco. 


And lastly, because I am loathed to bring it up, we have Jay Cutler and the intense media scrutiny over his body language.  I know it is a ridiculous thing to talk about.  But if you get perceived by the media as a player who just doesn’t seem to care you open yourself and your teammates to an unfortunate line of questioning.  I only bring these things up to point out that our team has had its struggles with the media.


Should NFL coaches and players be ready to deal with that type of scrutiny?  Not should they have to, because that answer has already been taken out of their hands.  They have to deal with it whether they like it or not.  But should they know how to?  Should they be prepared for that?  Do coaches owe us more than wins on the field?  Do they owe us answers?  Does Jay Cutler need to worry about his image in the media? 


I’d say no, but he really does open himself up to some unfair attacks.  Does a quarterback's media image effect how he plays?  I wouldn’t think so.  But did the pressure get to be too much for Rex Grossman?  How did we all react to the statement "Rex is our quarterback"?  The media is there.  They aren’t going anywhere.  I take that back, they are going somewhere.  They’re growing by leaps and bounds, expanding at an alarming rate - and should the coaches and players be ready to deal with it?  I don’t see how the answer to that can be "No." 


Want a good read on this?  Try "Media, Sports and Society" by Lawrence A Wenner.