NBA’s Evolving Relationship With Journalism
How our athletes are now celebrities.
Many of the online sites and tabloid journalists are not held to the same standard as traditional journalists and part of the reason why is because they don’t have the same accountability. If the New York Times or ESPN misreports something, they will certainly be called to the carpet for it and take a great financial risk since they can be sued for libel or slander. Someone posting something on a fan message board or fairly anonymous website doesn’t have the same financial or organizational risks.
National and international coverage of an athlete results in sports stars attaining celebrity status. An increasingly large number of people put athletes on the same level as movie and pop stars. There has been a transformation from sports stars who were traditional “larger-than-life” heroes, to cultural icons or “celebrity-personalities.”
Nets shooting guard Sasha Vujacic won two NBA championships with the Los Angeles Lakers. He’s also engaged to tennis star Maria Sharapova. The synergy between Sharapova, a beautiful athlete, and Vujacic being an accomplished NBA player garnered extra media attention especially when the two were engaged. TMZ and Deadspin reported their engagement.
“It has its pluses and minuses with TMZ, we live our life pretty low key—we are devoted to what we are doing,” said Vujacic in a recent interview. Vujacic acknowledges the balance of a good upbringing from his parents and his early start in his sport for keeping him grounded in handling media.
“The journalism brings you to celebrity status but you try to stay down to Earth as much as you can,” he added. “Spending seven years in Los Angeles playing for one of the best teams on the planet definitely gives you opportunity to be out there and it just grows if you are smart with it.”
Professional athletes increasingly live under media scrutiny which requires an adjustment on their part. “When I started out, I was relatively young,” Vujacic said. “I did first steps in Italy, I learned about media, I learned about relationship with media and players.
“It took me a while when I got to L.A., I slowly did what I was supposed to do and got two championship rings, but not always do you have that shining period, it comes with a lot of ups and downs when you’re successful you’ve got to deal with it.”
With the attention athletes receive as celebrities, comes the responsibility since they may be viewed as role models. Some athletes are recognizing this responsibility at an earlier age.
Marc Spears, NBA columnist for Yahoo Sports believes that it is fair to make athletes both role models and celebrities. In a recent interview, he discussed how younger athletes are realizing the responsibility that they have to their fans to be role models.
“Austin Rivers, the son of Boston Celtics head coach Doc Rivers, is the highest ranked basketball player in the country and he has about 30,000 Twitter followers,” Spears said. “And he’s learning at an early age what kind of responsibility he has even though he’s not playing in college. Now with today’s society as far as Internet, Twitter, social media, now more than ever, people will know what you do and when you are a star and recognized for something there are so many people that want to be like you and listen to your every word and every step.”
Rivers’ experience with Twitter has been good so far, but Twitter can also have a negative impact.
Minnesota Timberwolves forward Michael Beasley, then a member of the Miami Heat, posted a picture of his new tattoo and unbeknownst to Beasley, bags of marijuana were in the background of his picture. It created a stir on the Internet. Former NBA player John Lucas, who had his own battles with addiction served as a mentor to Beasley. He was quoted in a True Hoop blog stating,
“Basketball is what you do, it is not who you are. Free time, bad environments and bad influences only hold sway on you if you have no life outside of the game.”
“Guys who come to the League now are so savvy now, sometimes you have to reign them in,” said New Jersey Nets PR director Gary Sussman. “And with Twitter, men and women athletes go through so much to keep their life private that now their private life is public.”
Beasley removed the picture and eventually deactivated his account. He also checked into a drug rehab program for the entire summer. Many wonder if it was a publicity stunt or whether he was sincere.
Ric Bucher, senior writer for ESPN the magazine said that he didn’t fully grasp the issue of athletes being role models until he became a parent.
“I don’t expect athletes to be role models for my kids; I see it as my job to teach them right and wrong and help them develop sound principles of living,” Bucher said.
“But the fact is, kids pay attention to athletes and mimic what they do—I see it as an opportunity for athletes to have a positive impact on society,” he added. “They can choose to utilize it or squander it.”
Some believe that Twitter is not all bad. Adena Andrews is a USC grad who now lives in Atlanta. Andrews developed a working relationship with Josh Powell, a member of the Atlanta Hawks. With Powell being a former Laker and Andrews being a USC Trojan, they have a connection to Los Angeles. After tweeting back and forth, they discovered that they both acquired a love for chicken and waffles.
“Twitter helped me gain a better relationship with him and I was really happy about that,” Andrews said.