Major League Baseball, in a joint statement with the NBA, NHL and MLS, announced on Monday that clubhouse access would be limited to players, coaches and certain team personnel, at least (hopefully) temporarily, in the wake of the COVID-19 concerns. So for, at least for the start of the 2020 baseball season, reporters will have to do their work strictly under press conference forums, and even then, staying 6-8 feet away from athletes and coaches.
First, the precautions are understandable, to some extent. Why 5-15 media members present a more dangerous risk than fans sitting right next to the dugout a team’s bench at a basketball game is puzzling (actually it’s not, it’s probably because of money), but COVID-19 is spreading at an alarming rate, and measures do need to be put in place to prevent it from spreading any further.
That is tough to argue, but what does need to be argued is the response by many that reporters should be able to do their jobs in the same capacity with these new precautions in place. That’s a dangerous declaration, and one that I really hope doesn’t turn into a permanent method of operations by professional sports teams, because it would dilute a sense of authenticity from players and coaches who build trust and a solid working relationship with the reporters who are in the clubhouse on a daily basis—who know the team better than anyone.
I’m not going to pretend I can offer concrete examples from my own life that would show my clubhouse access matters. I’ve only been in two MLB clubhouses as a credentialed reporter in my life, but I can say that conversations in press conferences before and after the game carry a much different tone than a discussion with one or two reporters in the clubhouse.
Marc Carig and Andy McCullough of The Athletic discussed this in their debut episode of their podcast Beyond the Scrum, and how cameras in the faces of athletes and managers cause a guard to go up, and you get much more filtered and cookie-cutter responses. In clubhouses, that filter is at least lessened, especially when the reporters making the rounds in said clubhouses are the ones that are there every day, establishing that level of trust. It’s when longer, more informal conversations can take place about things other than the game itself, and that’s when great stories like Lindsey Adler’s can come to light:
Understand most fans don't give a crap about how much access reporters have and where. It's *very* insidery. But I wanted to share four stories I've written recently that came from clubhouse convos. My hope is this type of work helps fans understand their favorite team better. pic.twitter.com/47JFAVhgCE— Lindsey Adler (@lindseyadler) March 7, 2020
This shouldn’t be much of a surprise. In press conferences, there’s not enough time to ask the type of questions to put stories like these together, and with a bunch of cameras in players’ faces, you might not get the same thoughtful responses. Imagine if Lindsey wanted to do her awesome Madden story in this current format, and had to have five different players come out for interviews? Would that even be granted?
Let’s think back to as early as last season, when multiple reporters on the Yankees beat tweeted out updates about the team’s clubhouse parties, from smoke machines to what music was playing and just how rowdy it was getting in there. Yankees Twitter ate that up, and for at least the start of this season, that won’t be as accessible.
I want to read more stories like Lindsey’s and other stories from other great beat writers across the country who are able to sit down with players and break past the typical cliche responses. That seems to happen in clubhouses more than anywhere else, and that’s why access matters. Even CC Sabathia says on almost every R2C2, during ad reads for The Athletic, that a website like that is particularly effective because all of the writers are in the clubhouse and know the team. Sure, it’s an ad read, but he also doesn’t have to say those exact words. Yet he does every time because as a big leaguer for decades, he recognizes who knows the team best, and it’s the beat reporters that are in the clubhouse every day.
The current restrictions, to some extent, are understandable, but don’t be fooled. The media needs clubhouse access to do their jobs as effectively as possible, and I sincerely hope this precaution doesn’t lead to something more permanent, because the industry as a whole would suffer greatly.