When the NFL banned Barstool Sports from covering Super Bowl week events, PFT made an issue of it because we think independent media should be able to cover the sport without constraints from the league. Now the NBA has provided an example of what can happen when a sports league gets too heavy-handed with the media, and the media lacks the will to push back.
Bleacher Report has deleted a tweet joking about Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks shooting an airball, not because there was anything wrong with the tweet, but because Mavericks owner Mark Cuban told them to, and they didn’t have the guts to stand up to Cuban’s bullying.
It started on Friday night, when Bleacher Report tweeted a short video clip of Nowitzki’s airball with the caption, “DIRK FOREVER.” There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. We frequently laugh about players making mistakes. Bloopers are some of the most popular sports highlights.
Cuban, for some reason, took offense. And instead of shooting back at Bleacher Report with a tweet of his own and being done with it, Cuban decided to flex his muscles, perhaps knowing that Bleacher Report wouldn’t have the stomach for a fight with him. Cuban sent a profane email to Turner President David Levy (Turner is Bleacher Report’s parent company) and copied NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, ordering Bleacher Report to take the tweet down. Cuban made a vague threat that he would “communicate with the millenials [sic]” if Bleacher Report didn’t comply.
If Bleacher Report had any integrity, Levy would have told Cuban that independent media outlets don’t take orders from the people they cover, and that would have been the end of it. Amazingly, Bleacher Report followed Cuban’s orders, deleted the tweet and put up a fawning tweet about what a legend Nowitzki is.
That is a shocking capitulation and raises some ugly questions about Bleacher Report. We know about this time that Bleacher Report backed down to a powerful owner because this particular powerful owner chose to publicize it. What we don’t know is this: How many other times has Bleacher Report quietly backed down to owners or leagues? How many critical stories have Bleacher Report writers worked on, only to have the higher-ups put the kibosh on them when an owner or commissioner caught wind of it? If Bleacher Report is too spineless to stand up for itself on something as innocuous as a tweet about an airball, how quickly does Bleacher Report fold when there’s a complaint about something really serious?
And it relates to the NFL because, we’re happy to say, we’ve never encountered anything like this in the football world. We hear from NFL owners, teams, league executives, players and coaches who are unhappy with something we publish from time to time, but a demand from an owner to delete a tweet, coupled with a veiled threat, is something we haven’t experienced.
If we did, we’d stand up for ourselves. If we get something wrong we of course correct the record, but we don’t change what we publish simply because a thin-skinned owner doesn’t like it.
It’s important to have independent media outlets that aren’t afraid to step on a few toes, and won’t kowtow to the establishment. That’s why we thought the NFL stepped wrong when it banned Barstool Sports: Once a league starts picking and choosing which outlets can cover it, it begins to go down a dangerous path toward the league is dictating the coverage.
That’s a line that shouldn’t be crossed. With the NBA and Bleacher Report, it’s a line that has already been crossed.