We’ve recently addressed the minefield through which the employees of NFL Media are tippy-toeing when attempting on one hand to gain legitimacy through displaying independence and on the other hand to remain, you know, employees of NFL Media.
On Sunday night, there was a mild but not widely noticed boom.
In response to the decision of Browns owner Jimmy Haslam to acknowledge that there was an “opportunity” to acquire coach Jim Harbaugh from the 49ers, Dan Hanzus of NFL.com initially had this to say about the impact of Haslam’s words on 49ers CEO Jed York’s previous denial of the report that Harbaugh was nearly dealt to the Browns: “Haslam’s acknowledgement confirms this was one bit of business the Niners did not want getting into the public sector. It’s also not a good look for York, who was either dishonest in his response to the report or unaware the talks had taken place.”
It was courageous. It was also revised.
Someone scrubbed the possibility of prevarication from the money line, changing the second sentence to this: “It’s not a good look for York and the 49ers, who don’t want any friction with Harbaugh playing out in the media.”
It was a subtle but telling change. No matter how independent NFL Media aspires to be, there are limits to independence of any media owned by the league it covers. We’re not sure where that line is, but suggesting that one of the league’s owners is a liar clearly falls on the wrong side of it.
OK, it probably didn’t help that we applauded the bravery on Twitter. But that makes the revision even more glaring. They knew someone was paying attention, and they changed the wording anyway.
Why are we pointing this out? Because the media owned by any sports league necessarily has limits on the independence of those who are covering the league that owns the media outlet. While some could shrug off that reality by suggesting that we all have masters (and indeed we all do), anyone who works for a media outlet owned by the league it covers is beholden to his or her master in a way that will affect from time to time in a very clear and direct way the manner in which the league will be covered.