It’s been seven years since the Ray Rice scandal sent shock waves through the league office, prompting some externally to question whether it was time for a new Commissioner.
Internally, that vibe was more prevalent.
Appearing recently on The TK Show with Tim Kawakami, former NFL Network (and thus NFL) employee Michael Silver said this: “Inside the building, there was a sense that the whole operation was imperiled.”
Obviously, he doesn’t mean that the league would have imploded over the release of a video showing Rice knock his then-fiancée unconscious, followed by a report that the league secretly had the video before TMZ.com published it. Silver means that the situation could have resulted in a full and complete leadership overhaul. New Commissioner. New executive team. New managers hired by those executives, and on down the line until the roster of league employees would have become unrecognizable.
Silver, who left NFL Network earlier this year, also was candid regarding the inherent conflict of interest that arises when a reporter is paid by the entity that the reporter covers.
“Imagine you work for Procter & Gamble and you’re going on Procter & Gamble live from Procter & Gamble Studios and talking about a scandal that could take down the entire operation,” Silver told Kawakami. “It would be a little awkward.”
Silver admitted that he measured his words in various ways while being paid by the league to cover the league. “I did self-regulate,” he said. Silver cited the rebate fraud scandal involving Browns owner Jimmy Haslam as an example. “In the old days, I might have said, ‘Jimmy Haslam’s a fraud, literally and figuratively’. . . . Now, working for NFL Network, I think I would be more prone to say something like, ‘You know, I think a lot of fans in Ohio are asking a lot of questions about the direction of the franchise. . . .'”
Silver’s candid remarks underscore the importance of the broader media landscape having truly independent publications, platforms, and voices.
“If someone came to me and said, ‘I’ve got an exposé on player safety and how the NFL is covering up concussions,’ my response would have been, ‘I’m not your guy on this,'” Silver said. That’s probably the same response Steven Ruiz, Antonio Brown‘s former live-in chef, would have gotten if he’d approached someone from NFL Network or Buccaneers.com with the fake vaccination card bombshell. But for Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times, the truth never would have seen the light of an iPhone screen.
It’s definitely the response that the custodian of the Ray Rice video would have gotten from an NFL Network employee. The source who claimed that the league previously had the video would have heard the same thing.
The problem, as discussed on Wednesday’s #PFTPM, is that the NFL and its teams have become somewhat accustomed to being covered by reporters who won’t pursue controversial stories or ask the tough but fair questions or say the critical but necessary things. They sometimes expect others who aren’t on the payroll to follow suit, and they get upset when they don’t.
Whether it’s right or wrong or proper or improper, as long as sports leagues and teams are hiring reporters to cover them, reporters with mouths to feed (including their own) will be accepting those jobs. From the perspective of the fan, it’s important to be aware of those fundamental relationships when consuming media, especially as more and more leagues, teams, and athletes produce their own content in the hopes of steering coverage away from the topics they hope to conceal, or at least to downplay.