Sports leagues and sports teams now commonly hire reporters to cover their own operations. Which raises an obvious question: How can a reporter behave independently when the reporter necessarily isn’t?
Appearing Friday on 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Toucher & Rich show, NFL Network’s Albert Breer pulled back the curtain on working directly for a sports league.
“I’ve been there five-and-a-half years and it’s a very limiting place in a lot of different ways,” said Breer, who is leaving NFL Network to join TheMMQB.com. “The rules were one way when I got there, and they’re very, very different now. And there are a lot of stories that I haven’t been able to do that I will be able to do now. . . .
“I think when I got there, there was very clearly a wall between us and the league. It was one of the first questions I asked when I left the [Boston] Globe is, ‘Am I going to be able to do the job the way that I did at the Globe?’ And the people that were there at the time said, ‘Absolutely.’ And that held true for a little while. That wall’s now gone and it’s a big reason why, probably two, three months ago, I just decided we’re going to stop talking to them and we’re going to find somewhere else to go. I’m glad I found a really, really, really good place to go and hopefully we can do some real good stories there.”
Breer, who lives in Boston, hasn’t been able to do many stories about the Patriots since the “on to Cincinnati” press conference, where he pressed coach Bill Belichick on whether he has provided enough assistance to quarterback Tom Brady, which in turn helped cement the mantra.
After that press conference, NFL Network yanked Breer off the Patriots’ beat. He told Toucher & Rich that this doubled his travel burden. (That, in turn, resulted in needless travel expenses for NFL Network.)
“[Y]ou’re taught for all these years to challenge people, and that’s your job and everything else,” Breer said. “I think you guys got a first-hand look at what happened when I started challenging people. Over the last year-and-a-half, I don’t think that’s any secret. . . . I don’t think they can stop me now. I don’t know.”
The only way to stop him now would be for the league or the Patriots to refuse to credential him to attend press conferences or games, which would be shocking if it happened. But when Breer worked directly for the league and its 32 teams, the easy way to stop him was to simply not assign him to cover the team that resides down the street from where he is.
So where does this leave NFL Network, NFL.com, and the rest of the NFL Media conglomerate? On the surface, it may cause some to become defensive, chastising anyone who points out the problem. Some may act unfazed, repeating with a shrug the common explanation that everyone has someone to answer to. Some may try both approaches. However, at a deeper level, Breer is doing his soon-to-be (perhaps even sooner-to-be) former colleagues a huge favor.
By telling the truth about what goes on, maybe things will change. The practice of sports leagues and sports teams hiring reporters who cover those leagues and teams won’t be going away. But if folks like Breer are willing to point out how the inherent lack of independence actually manifests itself, maybe sports leagues and sports teams will work harder to ensure that a true firewall exists between the reporting arm and the business arm of the overall enterprise.