Friday, August 20, 2010

SPORTS>>Tipping cap to reporters with ethics

Leader sports editor

Who would have thought a cap would cause such a flap?

By now we have heard all about radio personality Renee Gork, who has so far become the biggest distraction of the preseason when she was fired for wearing a Florida Gators cap to an Arkansas press conference Monday.

Hogs coach Bobby Petrino, Mr. Button-Down No Fun himself, called attention to the cap and spelled Gork’s doom when he took her question and then said, “And that will be the last question I answer with that hat on.”

I don’t think he smiled when he said it — I watched the video clip — but it’s hard to tell with that guy. Remember, of course, that last season Florida beat Arkansas somewhat controversially, 23-20, in a game that featured a missed Hogs field goal and some questionable officiating calls.

Neither Petrino nor the university asked for Gork to be fired, though the coach and quarterback Ryan Mallett asked her not to come back. Nonetheless Gork’s employer, radio station KAKS-FM 99.5, summarily dismissed her.

If you think Gork is an isolated example of questionable sports media behavior, think again.

The day before Gork’s fatal press conference, a credentialed reporter and photographer were booted from the Denver Broncos’ lockerroom for getting autographs from former Florida quarterback Tim Tebow following a preseason game with Cincinnati.

Now, let’s be clear, every sports media member I know watches and enjoys our great games in his or her spare time. Some of us in the business even have favorite teams.

I myself love the Chicago Cubs, though given the creative ways they have crushed my hopes over the years, they must hate the heck out of me.

It just wouldn’t be any fun if we didn’t root for someone, and therefore I don’t deny Gork the right to own as many Gators caps as she wants. After all, she’s a Florida graduate. And that reporter and photographer? Hey, they can get their autographs as long as they take off their passes, buy a ticket and stand in line with the rest of the fans.

There used to be a time when reporters, particularly baseball writers, were much more cozy with the people they covered, dining and drinking with players and owners and keeping their dirty little secrets. But no more.

There is a reason why there are rules and guidelines against reporters showing bias.

There are reasons why, before most NCAA games, someone makes an announcement that cheering is an offense that will get you kicked out of a press box. There are reasons why they yank your press pass if you ask for an autograph by the batting cage.

First and foremost, how can one objectively report the hard facts if he sees himself as a friend of the team he covers?

As the cost of going to a game and the price of players, teams and tax-funded stadiums have soared into the stratosphere, reporters, at least the good ones, have become watchdogs.

If your tax money goes to a public funded university and that university spends millions on football, don’t you have a right to know how that program operates? If your tax money is going toward a monolithic new stadium while schools have to hold bake sales to buy paper, don’t you at least want to know how the team within that stadium conducts its business?

Good reporters are part of the system of checks and balances that keep sports programs honest.

In Gork’s case it wasn’t that she wore a team cap, it was that she wore the wrong one. KAKS bills itself as “Hog Sports Radio” and general manager Dan Storrs had this to say after Gork was fired: “This radio station is Hog Sports Radio. We are very biased.

We support the Razorbacks 100 percent.”

Don’t expect these guys to break any news about grade-inflation scandals or off-field misbehaviors any time soon.

Now, as high school football season begins, gridirons around Arkansas will be swarmed with sportswriters wearing the home team colors and calling themselves journalists.

The dirty word in this business is “homer,” and that’s what these guys are. These are the guys who think they are part of the program, who think the game can’t go on without them.

The homer, fans, is not your friend. The homer won’t tell you if kids are being passed academically just so they can play football; the homer won’t tell you if a coach mistreats a kid at practice.

The homer would rather stand on the sidelines and give high fives.

Keep an eye out for the homers. Don’t trust them.

Just keep it under your cap.