The IX: Basketball Wednesday with Howard Megdal, March 11, 2020
Media policies and women's sports — Interview with C. Vivian Stringer — Must-click women's basketball links
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Media policies and women’s sports
Not sure if you’ve heard, but there’s a global pandemic at the moment. I know, little has been written about it, so you’re excused if you hadn’t seen anything.
But in my sports journalism corner of the world, there’s been a specific issue coming from the current protective measures being implemented. The major men’s sports leagues, collectively, ended locker room access in what is being called a temporary measure. The fear among many of us, myself included, is that rarely have we seen access taken away, then returned, and this could have a significant long-term impact on the way we do our jobs.
This is a bigger deal as it relates to women’s basketball, though. Allow me to explain.
The current media rules, prior to the ban, were uniform for the NBA and the WNBA. They are as follows: home coach speaks 105 minutes before the game — so for a 7:30 tip, he speaks at 5:45. Road coach speaks 90 minutes before the game. Then locker rooms must be open from 75-45 prior to the game. If a player is requested, he must be made available, either pre- or post-game. Postgame, both coaches talk, and locker rooms open again.
What this means, functionally, is that there’s not only a means by which players are available, but it happens in a comfortable space. I’ll say to a player, “Have a minute?” Usually, he can be seated at his locker. Or we can walk and talk, to and from the court. It’s a far less stilted way to interact, and along the way, if you cover a team regularly, you get to know one another. Gestures, small details, things you see that aren’t on TV all color coverage. For fans, it is a way into understanding the team at a different, more fundamental level. It’s no small thing.
Accordingly, media members have pushed back hard on this, recognizing the extreme nature of the current moment, asking ourselves how this policy of distancing players 6-8 feet from media can make sense in a world where leagues are asking 20,000 people to come sit in close quarters (prediction: it won’t, we’ll see more and more fanless games in the days to come), and working hard to be sure this doesn’t carry over into the (OPTIMISM ALERT!) post-coronavirus world where things return to normal.
What most NBA teams have, though, is a multi-person PR staff to help facilitate interviews at all the typical times in the day media and the team interact. How well they do this will vary, as it always does, by the level of competence of the PR staff, and how much the team prioritizes cooperation with media in general.
In the WNBA? Well, let me share this story. I’d arranged to do a one-on-one with a player during her road trip to Washington a few years ago. When the time came, I headed to the locker room at the 75-minute mark, where I was to meet the player. The road team, which employed one PR person, had not sent said PR person on the road trip. The security guard would not open the door, saying she hadn’t been told by PR to do so. I tried to explain that “PR” was “thousands of miles away”. No avail. Only because this player, curious about our interview, peaked her head out, were we able to sit down and do it as scheduled.
The number of people covering the WNBA has increased, pretty substantially, over the past several years. Knowledge of the media protocol hasn’t always followed, though it is a key part of how I work to mentor my folks at High Post Hoops, informing them going in what their rights are and how to push back if and when PR tries to limit those rights.
But much of the time, it has nothing to do with the good faith efforts of both overworked, well-meaning PR people and media trying to fit interviews into small time spaces. If you have a staff with one person in charge of media PR coordination, that staff cannot, by definition, be in two places at once. Eliminate the locker room and open time to meet up and do interviews, and that becomes an exponentially bigger problem.
Moreover, that locker room time, and those conversations, often drive stories that otherwise never would even happen, conversations acting as both relationship-builders and inspiration. And in a world where it’s already hard to convince editors to pay attention to women’s sports, one of the few advantages in pitching comes when women’s sports teams provide access for stories we simply couldn’t write about men. That comes from openness.
I only learned about the relationship Theresa Plaisance had with her mother, the coach DoBee Plaisance, because I spent time talking to T one lovely pregame. It yielded both a story at the time and helpful perspective when I got to edit Erica Ayala’s deep dive on the same subject. It made the coverage better.
And the difference in quality and quantity of coverage between the WNBA, where locker room access is guaranteed, and NWSL, where we have fought for years just to get teams to regularly make players available after games, in any form at all, cannot be overstated.
So if you care about sports journalism, this should matter to you. And if you care about women’s sports journalism, this should really matter to you.
This week in women’s basketball
David Yapkowitz reports from what will be increasingly common: the high-stakes game in the empty arena.
Loved this primer from Pro Hoops History on the history of the women’s game.
Great deep dive from Charlotte Gibson on the women coaching in the NBA.
Seimone Augustus took to social media to explain her decision to leave Minnesota.
Madeline Kenney is on top of the Sky overseas.
Tremendous historical look at friend of the newsletter Ann Meyers Drysdale’s tryout with the Indiana Pacers.
PJ Brown explains how Arizona plans to learn from Oregon.
This Mike Anthony column on Paige Bueckers has so many quotable parts.
Hear from Cathy Engelbert on Poppy Harlow’s podcast.
Mike Jensen on what the cancelled Ivy League tournament means to individuals.
Emma Meesseman, who is better at basketball than you are, is also better at painting than you are.
WNBA free agency mayhem drove ticket buying in the offseason. This is my most unsurprised face.
Tweet of the week
Five at The IX: C. Vivian Stringer, Rutgers coach