Pro athletes today are required to perform more media obligations than ever before. Fans want all-access looks into the lives of their favorite players, and media outlets try their hardest to deliver. Beyond that, players use social media outlets such as Twitter and Instagram to give fans a glimpse into their personal lives. Some athletes stick to politically correct statements or even let a PR team handle their social media messages. Other athletes, however, take control of their media and have no problem expressing their beliefs. In this post, I will go over some examples of the good, the bad, and the ugly of professional athletes and their media interactions.
Mohamed Sanu — pictured above — is in the news this week as a Muslim player competing in this Sunday’s NFL Super Bowl. During Tuesday’s player and coach media session, journalists bombarded Sanu with questions about his thoughts on President Donald Trump’s immigration ban. Sanu reasonably only wanted to speak of Sunday’s game, undoubtedly the biggest game he will play in his career. “Obviously, my name’s Mohamed,” Sanu said. “A lot of people know I’m Muslim. But I’m here because of my football talents, not because I’m Muslim. If you guys are going to continue to ask me about religious beliefs, I’m going to tell you the same thing. … I respect all you guys. I have tremendous love for all you guys, but I’m here to talk about football.”
A very calm and level headed response from Sanu. Reporters kept persisting. “I’m not really here to talk about that,” responded Sanu. “I’m here to focus on the game. At another time, maybe. But not right now. I’m here to play football.” Sanu chose to concentrate on the Super Bowl instead of politics despite media pressure and handled it correctly.
That’s not to say that professional athletes speaking their beliefs to the world are a bad thing. Many athletes have been prominent activists, most notably when Mohamed Ali spoke out as a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War when drafted in the 1960s. A group of the nation’s best African-American athletes — including Jim Brown, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Russell, and Ali himself — met in Cleveland, Ohio to show support in the Ali Summit. This event is an example of professional athletes coming together to shine a light on social injustice.
NBA superstars made steps to create awareness for police injustice across the nation. LeBron James, Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony, and Dwayne Wade stood in front of a black backdrop at the 2016 ESPY awards to create awareness. James went further and took to Twitter to display his emotions.
“I Can’t Breathe”
In 2014 James — as well as Derrick Rose, Kobe Bryant, and other stars — wore “I can’t breathe” T-shirts to honor police brutality victim Eric Garner. The shirts were a violation of the NBA dress code but made a statement of intent and created a dialogue.
Former Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch is not much of talker, and that extends to the media. After being fined multiple times for refusing to speak to the media, Lynch decided to change his approach. Lynch answered every question with the following: “I am just here so I don’t get fined.” He stayed the mandatory time and was technically not breaking any of the NFL’s rules. His line made huge headlines but did not make Lynch a journalist favorite.
Richard Sherman is one of the most outspoken players in the NFL. After not liking the questions in a post-game press conference, Sherman went after Seattle radio host Jim Moore. “You don’t want to go there. You do not. I’ll ruin your career,” said Sherman to Moore after the press conference. “I’ll make sure you don’t get your media pass anymore.”
Players do not have the power to dictate media availability. Sherman later tweeted an apology.
NFL superstar running back LeSean McCoy went on an unusual Twitter rant directed at the mother of his child for the world to see in 2013.
(Warning: Tweets are NSFW)
McCoy’s attempts to backtrack claim hacking were bizarre considering the personal nature of the tweets sent from his account. McCoy admitted he lied and did send the now-deleted tweets a few days later.
Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins took the wrong approach when dealing a media professional he did not like. That professional was columnist Andy Furillo, who wrote articles suggesting Cousins was hanging with the wrong crowd and should be traded by the Kings. Cousins responded with a post-game rant directed at Furillo, saying he would not speak with anyone until Furillo left the room.
The Kings responded to the incident with this statement:
“We are committed to being open and transparent, and any hint of media censorship is unacceptable. There is an ongoing review into this matter, and we will take the appropriate steps immediately upon its conclusion.”