A serious (for a change) question regarding potential bias

As the NFL grows and thrives, plenty of people are making plenty of money via contracts containing plenty of pages.  The stakes and complexity of these transactions require not only players but also coaches and front-office personnel and, more recently, journalists and broadcasters to hire agents.

Conflicts of interest are rampant, and often intricate.  Some agencies represent players and coaches, a practice that has troubled us for years but which continues unfettered.  Some agencies represent players and coaches and General Managers, another potentially problematic stew of conflicting agendas.  And some agencies have enhanced their player/coach/G.M. practice with the representation of journalists and/or broadcasters.

So what if a broadcaster who is represented by an agency is commenting favorably on, say, a draft-eligible rookie who is represented by the same agency?  Or what if the broadcaster is slamming, say, a draft-eligible rookie who is represented by a different agency?

We’re not saying that any impropriety is occurring or has occurred, or that any appearance of impropriety should be implied.  But shouldn’t the situation be disclosed so that the audience can decide for itself whether there’s reason to question what the client of a given agency may be saying about another client of the same agency — or about another player who is competing with that client for draft position?

I’ve got no journalism training (and it routinely shows).  But I generally believe that potentially compromising situations should be openly disclosed, and that the audience should be left to decide whether any compromising actually has happened.  For example, we openly acknowledge our NBC bias — and we publicly declare the partnership via the presence of the NBC logo on every page of the site.  So if I write something good about an NBC show or bad about something on another network, the audience can decide for itself whether I’m being a shill, or whether my position has any merit.  But wouldn’t it be odd if we were secretly partnering with NBC and I were from time to time singing the praises of NBC programming and/or dissing the programming of other networks without sharing with the audience the existence of the relationship?

We’ve opted for now not to name any names of journalists and/or broadcasters who may be in a compromising position, in large part because we’re not completely sure this is a real problem.  In the past, I’ve raised this issue with some of the journalists and/or broadcasters I know, and I’ve detected a vague sense in some of the exchanges that the journalists and/or broadcasters in such relationships realize it could become a problem at some point, and that they’re hoping that everyone will continue not to notice, or not to care.

Maybe that’s the case.  But the draft process brings the situation into its sharpest focus, with journalists and broadcasters routinely commenting on players without ever telling the audience that, for example, the broadcaster and the player share a common agency. 

The job of the agency is to get the player drafted as high as possible — surely, the relationship between broadcaster and agency will potentially be strained if the broadcaster is doing his or her job in a way that works against the agency’s mission for the players it represents.  Conversely, the broadcaster possibly will be regarded as a good solider and/or a preferred client if he or she helps advance the agency’s agenda regarding helping its player-clients be drafted as early as possible.

Let us know your thoughts on this, including whether you even care.

46 responses to “A serious (for a change) question regarding potential bias

  1. I actually think it is a big deal, especially if said broadcaster is getting paid “under the table” to say these things in which both the agent’s player gets paid, and the agent gets a good cut of it too.
    It’s like where most Americans have no clue that the majority of the media they watch is either skewed against the POTUS (Republican) or with it (Democrat).
    These same people are watching ESPN, etc, and assuming what they are hearing is the truth.
    But then, like the McShay point earlier, there’s always other motives involved.
    Like being Mel Kiper, Jr. II

  2. I think pre-NBC Florio would have given the readers what they want by naming names and connecting connections. Instead, Florio has become one of the compromised.

  3. I get your point, but what are people supposed to do about it?
    “Hey, I think this guy is great, just a heads up we share the same agency.”
    Everytime they comment on someone who shares an agency? That’d be ridiculous. Half of these guys probably don’t even pay attention to what agency a player is under so they may not even know.
    I get your point and to an extend I agree with you. But there’s no good solution.
    Point is, these guys aren’t selling us on how good NBC or another company is and why we should buy/subscribe to their product. The viewers aren’t buying a product from these players. The teams are, and the teams aren’t listening to the guys on ESPN or NFL Network, etc. So with all of the ‘analysts’ out there, even if there is a bias it should balance out on it’s own. And any bias can only impact the opinion of fans which is a lot less of an impact. These analysts are doing providing their opinion. Listeners understand this is an opinion and not fact. Any opinion is subject to bias and it’s up to viewers to determine how credible a source is. If a guy is going against the truth to promote/trash players, it will show and he’ll start looking like a guy who ‘sounds’ like he knows what he’s talking about, but doesn’t know what he’s talking about (see a story you posted earlier).

  4. Florio, I occasionally rag on your notions of journalism, whether this ragging is deserved or not. Though it’s never been marketed as anything other than an amalgam of truth and rumors, it’s still irked me when this site has become painfully speculative without taking time to properly support the speculations. That being said, I’ve read your site daily since before the time of the miraculous Terry Bradshaw death and resurrection and have never considered not reading it. For any nonsense that this site has delved into, seemingly only in the interests of hits as of late, I can say that I really love when you put together a thoughtful article like this that does illuminate an important but sticky issue that other forums seem to avoid. Good job on this one. I look forward to reading more articles of its ilk. If you don’t point out things like this, maybe no one else will. They won’t get as many hits as the nine articles a day speculating on McNabb or Favre or Tebow, but I think more of these would be nice. I know you’ve got to get paid, but there’s something to be said for integrity. There’s something to be said for having a voice a little off-kilter from the establishment and doing things your own way. Keep it up.

  5. Yea you have to wonder if Dez Bryant would be so highly touted if it were not for Deion Sanders influence on the NFL Network.

  6. Fifty years ago, it was an honor to pursue a career in one of the “professions” (doctor, lawyer, banker, journalist, etc.) and that in iteself was its own reward. More recently, everything is boiled down to the pursuit of the almighty dollar, and to maximize your earnings at every jucture, which is at the root of this issue.
    I agree that having the same agency represent players, coaches, GMs and now sports journalists presents a major conflict of interest. Hell, it’s bad enough when the same agency represents two players vying for the same position on a team!
    Look at it this way, would people think it was a problem if these same agencies started representing refs and officials? If the answer is yes (as well it should be) then the others are just gradations of the same slippery slope.

  7. What’s the point of this post? Do you think we’re all morons? We already know this. We’ve known it for years. It’s always been this way. It always will be this way. Stop wasting our time with these posts that your kid (or Rosenthal) could write.
    What’s next, a post about the Eagles using that dumbass at the Philly Enquirer to get out some more misinformation regarding one of their QBs?
    Oh. Exactly.

  8. You are doing your audience a disservice by not revealing these possible conflicts of interest. Perhaps it is your way of “not burning bridges,” but the very fact that you feel compelled to write up an article mentioning the possibility of these biases proves that you think it should be public knowledge.

  9. of course it’s a legitimate concern and I believe the media goes a long way in impacting young players’ careers, if not veterans as well. Take Dez Bryant’s Tweets recently as an example of a young guy losing his cool the first time the national media begins scrutinizing him. The media can now turn up the pressure on him and put his mistakes under a microscope that potentially limit his chances to succeed
    Why is the concern being raised now?

  10. I think it’s a HUGE bias when a glorified blogger takes up space on a “supposed” Pro Football site to talk about West Virginia basketball. Maybe it’s just me…

  11. Hmm. I see where you are going, but it requires a better understanding of agency politics. In my line of work I have representation, and he is greedy, but not that bright.
    Certainly he doesn’t have enough pull to make a series of clients all
    work in concert for some profitable / nefarious means. Maybe Drew Rosenhaus or some othe big wig can? I dunno.
    All I know is my small time interaction with a small time agent and what I see on Entourage.
    I also understanding that big time sports has pretty much become entertainment. If you doubt this, then I invite you to join me for my next ESPY’s viewing party.
    So, more research is needed. But it is an interesting supposition.

  12. It’s an interesting question, but I wonder if the reality of bias really enters into it.
    I work in online marketing, and we are a large company and we often have customers competing with each other for the exact same eyeballs. Everyone involved with those sites do the best they can for those sites, irrespective of the other customers in that area, and I would imagine it’s the same for agents with players competing for the same position, draft spot, etc. They’re going to tout the players best features and try to get the best contracts for everyone, while likely recognizing that someone is going to lose out, but that would happen whether the individual agent represents the two players or different agents represent them. After all, it’s in their best interests to do so.
    Broadcaster/agent/player conflicts are a tad more complex, but every broadcaster has biases, and I wonder if an agent bias would override more personal biases. Unless, of course, their agent offered some kind of financial compensation for that broadcaster to use their influence to pump up a player (for example), which is blatantly unethical and I would hope would result in the firing and ostracization of the broadcaster and agent (or censure at the very least).
    That said, I’m all for transparency, and I’d respect a broadcaster more if they disclosed any potential conflicts of interest directly, even if it didn’t really factor in to their analysis. That disclosure in itself would make me trust their analysis more (nothing to hide), though that may not be the most logical response.

  13. Didn’t we just see an article about how NFL scouts think these wannabe draftniks are a bunch of know nothing boobs? I don’t see what the issue is since teams apparently aren’t influenced by what the media says about prospects. Who cares what opinion the media shills to the public? Sports is entertainment. Talking about sports is entertainment. Reading about sports is entertainment. Bias isn’t an issue because not a single thing that is being talked about to the fans is anything more than an entertaining distraction from real issues.

  14. Do ‘media people’ REALLY have an influence on the dollars and cents of the business, or the integrity of the game?
    I know they’d like to THINK they do (Florio) but I’d say that this is an issue only to the extent of their actual influence.
    Florio said it earlier today about McShay: the real NFL scouts pay no mind to him.
    The people who sign/receive paychecks in the NFL are a more worrisome case.

  15. I check this site probably a little too much for the latest NFL news but its these bits that make it all worthwhile.
    Couldn’t agree more with you Florio. Thanks so much.
    Since player agents have to register with the NFL (or is it the players assoc?) they should have a website with easy to find info on which players and coaches (former and current) are represented by each agency/agent.

  16. ESPN is not biased, neither is Fox News or Keith Olbermann. They just like to offer opposing viewpoints.

  17. Name names. This would enable us to take certain comments with the required grain of salt.

  18. MF,
    I agree with the premise of your article, but it has been a long while since I took as gospel what anyone has said in the media.
    Whether it be NFL/CNBC/FOXNEWS/CNN, all have an agenda, and if anyone believes what they hear, then unfortunately, they are ignorant.

  19. Florio for NFL Commissioner 2020!
    Seriously, if these teams are hiring and paying for scouting departments they shouldn’t be influenced much by the media. The media only affects the fans perception and maybe the Raiders organization.

  20. Spot on Bro, you nailed this one. I basically stopped watching sports TV because of this. You and a select few are my sports news sites. As an advertising major I see the BS pump more then ever, just sick!
    Unless you really look, which most don’t, you WONT see that ESPN has such an agenda vying for the all important ratings/advertisers/money it is not reporting but manipulating.
    But what the hell does Florio know?

  21. It’s a very valid point you raise and rightfully so.
    It is about as conflicted as Senators & Congressmen taking money from special interest groups and then voting favorably on legislation that benefits them. So yes it’s a problem.
    The seriousness of issues like this you raise and the outright comedy of poster’s answers to some of your articles, are the primary reason I frequent your site and recommend it to others.
    Keep up the good work.

  22. Nice bit of journalistic commentary from a nonjournalist. Certainly the potential is there, but I love el_dudeoo’s post. It’s difficult to imagine even one of these agencies having the wherewithal to stage this type of Ludlumesque cabal.
    So the agents would get together, come up with a list of draft eligible player clients for their agency’s broadcast clients to promote and another list for them to talk down. Then they’d push that list on the journalistic talent? Risky business. Print journalists don’t have agents and don’t respect broadcasters. All it takes is one disgruntled agency admin or jilted ESPN intern … suddenly the New York Times has a scoop, and both agent and broadcaster lose their careers.
    But I still don’t like it. Broadcasters should be represented by agencies that don’t represent players. Then no conflict exists.
    BTW, when I point out that you’re not a journalist, that’s not a knock. This is just a different animal … and you probably earn more than Shefter 😉

  23. Florio,
    As a practicing attorney, I am well versed in conflicts of interest. My take is that broadcasters, television analysts, and other pay-for-opinion media personnel or quasi news/sports media who are represented by the same agents and/or public relations firms as players, coaches, and front office officials have, at a minimum, the appearance of inappropriate bias.
    The mere possibility that opinions expressed and/or the manner in which the news is reported is influenced by financial gain is a significant issue which needs to be addressed and resolved.
    How can sports fans and the public in general rely upon the so-called experts if the experts receive financial and extraordinary benefits by skewing a story or reporting a rumor which is without merit?
    I can only think that this practice is common and, as Florio mentions, quietly accepted and has obviously not been addressed previously. Is there any difference between a sports entertainment company such as the WWE promoting certain individuals over others in the company and NFL media coverage (on individual networks and media) doing the same thing, essentially?

  24. Its really not worth pursuing this because of the one thing this is truly about. Access. So Reporter A has the same representation as a quarterback on an NFL team. Sure the agent may, from time to time, nudge the reporter into doing a story that helps the quarterback get leverage on a team and may even pay the reporter to do so. But the reason the reporter is doing the story really isn’t about money. Its the fact that his access to that quarterback and access to the information the agent could provide him would be shut off if he didn’t do the story. And if a reporter isn’t producing stories that cause multiple hits on a website he’s not worth employing anymore. Is it unethical? Yeah. But are you ever going to be able to do anything about the situation? No. Even if you made it where players could only be represented by agents from a different business then reporters and coaches and anyone else is, these sort of backroom handshake deals will continue. Information is a commodity. Even the stories we see here are here for a reason. Maybe there’s no backroom handshakes with Florio (who really knows for sure and really I could care less), but the information we see that are “rumors” were put into his ear by someone with an agenda. Problem? No, its how the business is run.

  25. While I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility to think that this could (or is) happening, I think it is very unlikely. Ultimately, the self-interest of the client, whether it be a coach or broadcaster, should ultimately trump any collusion based upon an agency affiliation. A coach isn’t going to start “Player A” over a more talented or productive “Player B” simply because they share an agency…it could ultimately cost him his job. (Although I suppose if the two players were equals, it could potentially become a factor). Broadcasters and journalists are a stickier situation because all that’s at stake is their credibility…and some hold that more dear than others. While a broadcaster or journalist could damage his or her integrity in football’s inner circles by engaging in such a practice, it wouldn’t likely damage his or her standing with fans, most of whom are oblivious (myself included) to who a player’s agent/agency is until the word “holdout” is mentioned.

  26. Mr.Florio. Your alright man. This post shows your still have a heart. Anyone with half a brain should understand this is the American way, COLLUSION is a way of life in EVERY SPORT (etc). Smoke and mirriors baby.

  27. I think you generally overstate the influence an agency or agent has over a client. It’s not an analogous situation to your relationship with NBC because NBC pays you, an agent doesn’t pay a client. I don’t see what incentive a client has for complying with an agent’s request to promote another client (assuming they’re not paying him under the table to do so). The agency can threaten to drop the client or negotiate a weaker contract for them but then the client could simply choose another agent who would better represent their interests.
    Now if the agency is paying them under the table then that is a legitimate problem but there’s nothing that says an agency needs to have signed a broadcaster to pay them under a table. People generally overstate the importance and influence of the media and agents.
    As for disclosure, you don’t want to imply that there’s bias when in fact there isn’t. That’s an unnecessary threat to the trust between a media member and their audience (to the extent that such trusts exists). It also would detract from times when a member of the media has a more legitimate conflict of interest.
    To the extent that agents matter, its in that they may facilitate or guide their clients to teams who they have a more natural relationship with. If an agent is on good terms with a team, that team may have an advantage in getting that agents players to sign. As for client to client, I don’t see the evidence or the incentive.

  28. tl;dr
    Ok, i was lying above, but it needed to be said!
    Good point but i really don’t believe any team will be persuaded by some non-objective draftnick telling them that player x should be drafted higher then their ranking.
    These non-objective broadcasters would also be less accurate and loose their clout. Someone who misses on a lot of picks like McShay is just laughed at today. So maybe it sorts itself out and isnt a real problem.

  29. The truth is that real NFL scouts (the guys actually on teams payroll) don’t get their information from TV analysts. As fans we eat up all the crap that flows from guys like McShay, etc, but in reality it’s all just entertainment. The real scouts know where the real talent is. That’s why you have all these so-called surprises on draft day. A guy might seem like a “reach” to us but that’s because we’re no professional scouts. All we know is what John Clayton tells us.

  30. @ Milhouse says:
    “I think pre-NBC Florio would have given the readers what they want by naming names and connecting connections. Instead, Florio has become one of the compromised.”
    I agree, but good post Florio……unless, this was an April Fool’s day prank?!?

  31. I totally agree and the main culprit is ESPN, they lead all broadcast companies in crotch nuzzling and slamming people without cause. Some of it is so they don’t hurt players’ feelings so they will continue to interview, some of it is because former players don’t want to slam other former players and some of it is the agent thing.
    NFLN has the same problem with Deion Sanders and Jaimie Dukes.

  32. Other than the fact that you could have probably summed that up in half of what you wrote, your correct. However, it’s not going to change until something crazy happens.
    I can see a player getting talked/written highly about and even saying what a high draft choice he will be, only to find that he was doing a favor to the player because of the same agent/agency.
    I wonder who McShay’s agent is and Andre Woodson? I will have to go see now. Later, too much work.

  33. bias should be disclosed in all forms and you are right to connect these dots in the pre-draft time period (and any other time as well).
    but this swings both ways. we know you disclose your relationship w/ nbc but you routinely show bias against certain players, whether you disagree with their politics, religion, choice of college or whatever (and have admitted to on rare occasions).
    in other words, you should strive to connect all the dots and present the whole story regardless of the subject and regardless of the bias. especially when your own bias is the one that is most relevant to that particular item.

  34. i care about integrity/honesty/transparency, and that is one of PFT’s strengths. it’s pathetic that you and jay leno are on the same team, but that’s not your fault, and the fact that you openly admit your NBC bias is refreshing. more ppl should follow suit.

  35. While NFL scouts know how to find the talent and relay that information to the coach, GM, and owner, the scout isn’t the one making the decision. An owner with his fingerprints all over the team and who is looking at how to make money is going to see who the popular players are and might be willing to give them a shot if they think it will be a decent move and look good to the fans who pay the money that the owner wants.
    Frankly, everyone has an agenda. I come here for insight from the writers and posters so when I have an argument with my friend about why Tebow sucks, I have some ammo. But I also realize that not everything posted is accurate or even true, and that everything posted is done so by someone with an agenda, whether it is to piss off opposing fans, spread genuine knowledge, or try to convince someone their opinion is correct.
    Does collusion happen? Absolutely. To think otherwise is folly, but whether it is rampant to the point of affecting how our favorite teams do business, I doubt it. I prefer to have everything out in the open and let everyone play on a level playing field, but not everyone thinks that way, and we need to be prepared to play on that field.

  36. Yes, I care. After all the paperwork I had to sign for some consulting work at one of those mortgage giants that lost megabillions, it is amazing to me when companies don’t require and disclose conflicts.
    The networks need to learn we need good clean independent reporting and not a bunch of lazy ex-players who aren’t willing to do the filmwork or the reporting and have all kinds of other business tie-ins.

  37. Whoa … when you talk about broadcast journalists, I immediately think of, well, journalists–guys like Shefter, Mortensen, etc. And no, they shouldn’t be represented by agencies that handle player talent. I was forgetting that more than half the guys offering commentary about potential draft picks aren’t journalists–they’re former players. And they still have the same agents they had when they were on the field. That’s how the Sanders/Bryant/Parker mess happened.
    So collusion wouldn’t have to involve a big Ludlumesque cabal of multiple agents. It could be a single agent whispering in the ear of a former player with whom he’s had a close relationship for years. And there’s already too much of that happening.
    Definitely problematic.

  38. I don’t care in the respect, I’M not the one shilling out the millions of dollars; however, I do think in the interest of journalistic ethics, there should be some way to disclose that “the reason I’m suddenly pushing this player who was projected to go in the 5th round to the 1st round is b/c I am represented by his same agent..”

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