Albert Pujols, one of the greatest players in the history of the game and most revered figures in the city of St. Louis, is a coward who lacks leadership skills, at least according to the headline writers at Yahoo! Sports.
Judging by the solemn photo of Pujols, crouching low after allowing a relay throw to slip by his glove, you’d think the Cardinals’ first baseman did something heinous. Was he caught cheating on the field? Or, maybe he put a personal accomplishment ahead of team goals? Perhaps he had an argument with his manager, or disrespected a teammate in full view of the country? Pujols did none of those things. He simply skipped out on reporters by leaving the clubhouse soon after the game.
Yahoo! Sports wasn’t alone in criticizing Pujols for his early exit. In columns and tweets, media members took turns lambasting the MVP for his refusal to live up to his post game obligations. Not content to simply cover the World Series, many in the media instead decided to make their role a central story line.
Years ago, before the advent of RSNs, blogs, twitter, and various other new media outlets, the press was a vital link between players and fans. Teams accorded special access to ink-stained scribes because it was in their best business interests. Understanding the value of their symbiotic relationship, writers also tended to shy away from sensational stories. It was a working relationship that benefitted both sides. Like or not, however, that dynamic no longer exists.
Because of the proliferation of “new media”, teams rely less and less on the traditional media for exposure. Between RSNs, which cater to specific teams, and national outlets like ESPN, which depend on sports programming, not to mention the countless social media outlets and independent blogs, leagues enjoy unparalleled exposure, an increasing amount of which comes from alternative means. Meanwhile, traditional media has evolved toward sensationalism as it tries to compete with the expanding market place. The result has been countless examples of unsubstantiated character assassinations perpetuated by outlets that once turned their nose up at such methods of reporting (see how the steroid controversy has been handled for a perfect example). As a result, the symbiotic relationship has been broken.
Put simply, if the New York Daily News decided to cut out Yankees coverage, the former would take the much bigger hit. Viewed in that context, Pujols decision to skip out on the media was really nothing more than a discourteous act. Should he have hung around to help out some of the writers looking for a quote or two about the game? Sure. Did his failure to do so amount to cowardice and failed leadership? Absolutely not.
It’s easy to understand why the traditional media feels threatened when a player denies them access. It’s not because they feel a responsibility to the fans, as many members frequently claim. Journalistic sensibilities also play little role. Rather, it is a defense mechanism based on self preservation. After all, one of the few things that separates the traditional media from the new media is access, and once that is taken away, the line becomes completely blurred.
Had Albert Pujols remained in the clubhouse, he likely would have talked about misjudging the throw, being disappointed, and vowing to play better in Texas. In all honesty, would any of that have really enhanced the game story? Although a few quotes from Pujols would have been nice, so much else happened in the game. By fixating on what Pujols said, or didn’t say, it makes you wonder if the well of creativity has run dry. If so, that would explain why the media more regularly makes itself a part of the story, instead of simply reporting on it.