The battle between the media and athletes has been waged for many years. In Boston, it is practically a rite of summer for a player to wage a war with the media. For the Red Sox, New England’s Team, there has not been a season where one player has refused to talk to reporters after a critical article. For Red Sox fans, not only is this commonplace, but it is expected. This harkens back to the 1940’s when Ted Williams regularly fought with reporters. His battle cost him a Most Valuable Player Award when he hit .406 and lost to Joe DiMaggio by one vote.
Of the current-day Red Sox, players like Pedro Martinez and Manny Ramirez stopped talking to the media at various times after they were villified by various columnists and reporters. Curt Schilling who joined the Sox this season following an off-season trade has found that fighting the media can be a losing proposition.
When Curt was considering the trade from Arizona to Boston, he was told of a Red Sox fans website, Sons of Sam Horn (SOSH), named after a former Red Sox Designated Hitter/first baseman. Curt said the enthusiasm and passion of the fans he met during an early morning private chat session was a contributing factor to his approval of the trade. Fans around New England were happy that a World Series MVP was coming to the Red Sox. In addition, Curt promised to continue talking to the fans through SOSH.
SOSH is a members-only site where Red Sox fans can talk about their favorite team. What differentiates that site from other chat boards is that it is by invitation-only. There are an estimated 300 fans who can post. There is a waiting list of fans who want to join. Those who cannot join have become members of other boards such as The Remy Report (named after the Red Sox TV color analyst, Jerry Remy).
Schilling would chat with fans on SOSH and then started a chat thread on The Remy Report boards as a way to reach out without having to talk to the middleman. When word leaked that Curt was making this type of effort, some reporters began to mock the chats and others felt threatened. Boston Herald columnist Tony Massarotti was among those in the latter category.
The topic of Curt’s chats became a subject of discussion on Boston Sports Radio station WEEI. Massarotti and Providence Journal Red Sox beat reporter Sean McAdam felt the end run around the media was dangerous. McAdam called the devotion of fans who post “slavish”. Massarotti was quick to note that the best way for players to reach the fans was through the media. Schilling actually called into WEEI to defend his chats. During this conversation came Tony Maz’ famous line that if Schilling continued to by-pass the media then “maybe we won’t cover your charity events.”
Cut to this last week when Curt had another chat with the members of SOSH. Schilling has made it clear that what he posts in the chats are private and not to be passed to the media. Thus far, this request has been adhered to. But when Schilling made it known that a recent ankle injury might require surgery, SOSH members were quick to e-mail WEEI and Tony Maz.
Naturally, Massarotti went with the story and published it. Members of SOSH were angry over the betrayal and Schilling posted that he would no longer post. Massarotti has defended his actions and even encourged Curt to stop conducting Internet chats. In his message to SOSH members, Schilling singled out Massarotti and said he felt betrayed.
Over the past two days, WEEI and Providence Sports Radio station WSKO have had a field day with the Internet chat boards calling posters “guys who live in their mother’s basements”. While some may still live there, it is not fair to characterize everyone in that manner. In addition, reporters who don’t understand the Internet’s power are doomed to be left behind. Also, writers such as Massarotti who hold grudges and promise not to cover chartible events because a player will not talk to them make themselves sound petty when they try to defend their actions.
Fans who are members of SOSH and the Remy Report boards are angry over the loss of Schilling. They are critical of Tony Maz for reporting the chat. They should also be angry with the members who betrayed Curt’s trust and forwarded the info to WEEI and the Herald.
Massarotti may have won this battle, but he may not win the war. Schilling may return to the boards to chat with fans, but he may be more guarded in what he reveals.
The entire fight has been silly as with most player-media battles. The battleground is different, but the results may be the same with a player withholding his comments to the fans.
And so it goes …. (apologies to Linda Ellerbee)