Newseum panelists claim sports writers aren’t the enemy

 The distinguished panel gather Saturday afternoon at the Newseum’s Knight TV Studio to discuss the tensions between sports writers and coaches or players. (Credit: Shirley Povich Center)  (left to right: George Solomon, Pepper Rodgers, Christy Winters Scott, Leonard Downie Jr., Liz Clarke, Greg Aiello, David Aldridge and Gene Policinski )

The distinguished panel gather Saturday afternoon at the Newseum’s Knight TV Studio to discuss the tensions between sports writers and coaches or players. (Credit: Shirley Povich Center)

(left to right: George Solomon, Pepper Rodgers, Christy Winters Scott, Leonard Downie Jr., Liz Clarke, Greg Aiello, David Aldridge and Gene Policinski )

President Donald Trump has become known to spew negativity at the press by calling them the “enemy.” Even in the world of sports, tensions between sportswriters and coaches or players has increased significantly.

Greg Aiello, former communications executive for the NFL, disagreed saying, “it [press coverage] is an aspect of our business that can be adversarial at times, but they aren’t the enemy. They are part of our industry and we have to manage it.”

These comments came at the “Sports Writers: Are We Also the Enemy?” panel Saturday afternoon, held by the Shirley Povich Center at the University of Maryland, in partnership with the Freedom Forum Institute at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.

George Solomon, director of the Povich Center and former assistant managing editor for The Washington Post, along with Gene Policinski, chief operating officer of the Freedom Forum Institute and former managing editor for USA Today, jointly moderated the panel.

The panel included Aiello, David Aldridge, editor-in-chief of The Athletic DC; Liz Clarke, columnist for The Washington Post; Leonard Downie Jr., former executive editor and vice president at The Post; Pepper Rodgers, former football player and coach and Christy Winters Scott, a college basketball color analyst.

In an industry that is ever-changing, the panelists agreed that the internet could be the cause for the increase in tension. Rodgers reflected on a time where he received letters, instead of direct messages or blog comments.

“I understood that they [the press] had a job to do and I had a job to do,” Rodgers said. “The friendlier you are, the harder it is from them to rip you.”

As a former athlete, Scott said she speaks to athletes the way she wanted reporters to speak to her after a bad game, while being careful of her words.

“You understand the emotional piece,” Scott said. “You have a keen sense of questioning after a loss.”

Trending throughout the panel was the topic of asking the hard questions. Aldridge said a past boss of his, former Washington Post columnist Leonard Shapiro, told him, “you cannot work in this business if you’re afraid to ask the question.”

Scott said reporter respectability goes a long way. Athletes know the difference between reporters who are prepared and those who are not. They can pinpoint the reporters who sit in the background and get quotes without doing the hard work.

In order to mend the strained relationship between the two, reporters have to be more aware of the power their work possesses.

“The media can have the potential to create problems of a team by reporting negative stories that are subversive to the coaches goal,” Aiello said.

All the panelists agreed that asking athletes and coaches tough questions is a part of the business and Aiello said the NFL’s media training focuses on getting players and coaches to understand that “you can’t control the question, but you can control your answer.”

Clarke herself was not a fan of the event’s title, which questioned if sports writers were the “enemy.”

“We are all aware of what happened to [murdered Saudi Arabian journalist] Jamal Khashoggi for the writing he did at The Post and a dear friend of mine who was among the five slayed at the Annapolis paper [The Capital Gazette],” she said. “Certainly no one there felt they were an enemy, but that was a deranged person with an assault rifle. And there are untold journalists in harm's way in Afghanistan and Mexico covering drug cartels and Belarus.”