Today I received an e-mail from a baseball beat writer who I’ve always liked. He was angry because, in a childish, off-handed way that I now regret, I termed it “pathetic” that he used to go to bars and drink with the players he was covering.
He arguedâ€”in a very polite way, I must sayâ€”that nothing is wrong with befriending the athletes we cover; that, as long as you’re willing to be professional, it doesn’t matter.
I strongly disagree. I’m also curious where others fall, and would appreciate comments on this one.
To me, if you’re a beat writer, you don’t roll socially with those you cover. Never. Ever. Ever. The reasons:
A. Perception: Even if you’re completely fair in your writing, people will never fully believe you. Let’s say you go drinking with, oh, C.C. Sabathia, and everyone knows it. Well, the next time Sabathia gets bombed, why didn’t your game story include more negative quotes? Or why didn’t it refer to that horrible wild pitch in the fifth? Or why …
It doesn’t matter if your intentions were 100-percent righteous. Perception, in the public eye, always trumps reality. Always.
B. The Inevitable Conflict: You’re at a bar, doing shots with Carlos Pena. He vomits on the tavern owner and is beaten up by 10 bouncersâ€”who also kick your ass. Do you write about it? You’re at a dance club, grooving with David Wright, and he hooks up with Madonna. Do you write about it? Do you write that your team’s best player just made out on the dance floor with the world’s most famous woman? You have to, right? Or no?
How about this? You’re at a bar, doing shots with Brian Giles, and he gets arrested for public intoxication. Do you write about it? And how … when you’re in the cell right next to his?
C. Respect: I try not to care what others think of me. But I want to be respected by my media peersâ€”I really do. This kills it. Absolutely kills it.
Anyhow, that’s how I feel. Call me old school. Or perhaps new school. Or maybe no school at all. It is what it is.