The headline that has been withheld due to an embargo

The headline that has been withheld due to an embargo

I’ve referred here in the past to my affection for The Ringer, the US sports and popular culture website which affords us such luxuries as a deep dive on the character of Bullock from Deadwood (look it up) and in-depth audio analyses of rewatchable movies.

Last week Bryan Curtis, who specialises in sports media for the website, wrote a piece on British sports coverage, its lack of access to athletes (“post- access” was the term used to describe British sportswriting, and not in a good way), and the ‘embargo’ — how British sports hacks agree to release quotes at the same time.

If this strikes you as a bit too behind-the-curtains for general tastes, bear in mind that it’s relevant to how you consume sports coverage — ie, what you have folded in your hand or scrolled on your phone.

Which brings us to a first impression, the surprise at the lack of access in British sport compared — unsurprisingly — to American sport, with its access to dressing-rooms, its post-game podium interviews. 

Curtis maintained a slightly disbelieving tone in describing the occasional mixed-zone question afforded British hacks, though he ramped up from ‘slightly’ to ‘strongly’ when considering that ‘embargo’ on releasing quotes — not to mention the surprise at reporters asking an athlete about events taking place in the far future because access is so limited: so limited, in fact, that they need to maximise any face-time with a live sportsperson. Apocalyptic. And yet...

A few thoughts. For all the access, is American coverage so much better? 

We’ve all seen the video of Marshawn Lynch before the Super Bowl in 2015 saying, “I’m just here so I don’t get fined.” 

Is that a more progressive scenario than collecting quotes as someone legs it for a team bus?

Asking about an event months in the future also caught my eye, perhaps because I don’t see what was so shocking or retrograde about it. 

Any sportswriter worth his or her salt will maximise the return from any encounter, and if they didn’t their sports editor would remind them pretty sharply to do so.

Curtis made the point about limited access at some length, so he could hardly be surprised that a reporter would try to get as much as he or she could from face-to-face encounter — even if looking to hold quotes for several months, as mentioned in the piece, is a losing game for the most obvious of reasons. 

Of course, what also caught my eye in Curtis’s piece was a backhander delivered to ‘tabloid scufflers’, and the passing reference to the ‘print product’. 

There’s an uncomfortable implication here that the only sportswriting worth reading is the lengthy, deeply considered piece online. (The uncomfortable reality that many such pieces convey a false omniscience and are pompous copies of each other — and, whisper it, boring — isn’t really explored.) 

The relevance to Irish sports coverage is immediate and obvious. Access to sportspeople is as limited here as it is in Britain, particularly with the ‘big’ sports. 

Everyone in sports media has their own favoured horror story in this regard, whether it’s the inter-county manager who says he’s happy for his players to deal with the media as soon as they’re out of the championship or the rugby international who keeps you waiting for three hours before speaking for ten minutes.

All of this for the anodyne restating of phrases and terms which sound like they were harvested at a Jordan Peterson fan convention. 

One interesting aside, though, was Curtis’s description of the sharp reaction when hacks break the ‘embargo’, or ‘agreement’: One instance led to the police being called.

When that happens in Irish media, though, the reaction is a lot of passive-aggressive grumbling. 

So the Brits are ahead of us there, in fairness.

Hurling fans should avail of online episodes

The headline that has been withheld due to an embargo

Last year yours truly helped out with The Game, a hurling documentary series on RTÉ which struck a chord with viewers who caught it.

In creating the documentary we carried out almost 60 interviews, which meant that there was still a fair bit left over when the three episodes were broadcast.

In August a full fourth episode will be broadcast, and if you’re from Limerick, well, when you see it you won’t be able, as the kids say.

To tide you over the RTÉ Player has a selection of mini-films — about taking a free, playing for your county and, of course, the hurley itself.

Even allowing for my obvious bias, do yourself a favour and check it out.

Justin McCarthy dressing a hurley is, on its own, worth 10 minutes of your time.

See rte.ie/player/series/the-game-extra-time

A single error can haunt a player for a lifetime

The headline that has been withheld due to an embargo

Last week baseball star Bill Buckner passed away at the age of 69. 

Buckner had a long, eventful career, playing 22 seasons in the major leagues. 

He starred for some of the biggest teams in the sport — the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Chicago Cubs, the Boston Red Sox — and won batting titles and went to an All-Star game. 

After retiring he built a successful real estate development company.

But Buckner is always associated with one play in one game. 

When the Boston Red Sox were one strike-out away from winning the World Series in 1986 against the New York Mets, Buckner had the chance to win it all when a ball came bobbling towards him... and squirted between his legs and away.

The Mets rallied and won and eventually took the World Series.

The Red Sox had almost two more decades of misery to endure before ending their World Series famine. 

Buckner was booed and received death threats and eventually left the team.

There’s something of Buckner’s situation in most sports, where a single error can hang around a player’s neck for a lifetime. 

I remember a GAA player referring to a key passage in a game which had taken place half a century before our conversation. How often did he think of it, I asked.

“At least once a day,” he said.

Don’t feel too bad for Bill Buckner, though. He and Boston made it up eventually. 

In 2008 he was invited back to throw out the ceremonial first pitch for the Sox, and when he took to the field he got a standing ovation.

Pack these summer holiday essentials

A couple of people were on to me during the week about going on holidays and what to read and so on.

When I stopped weeping because they’re going on holidays and I’m not, I offered them BEST. MOVIE. YEAR. EVER: How 1999 Blew Up the Big Screen by Brian Raftery.

Because this is the sports section how about K: A History of Baseball in Ten Pitches by Tyler Kepner, because that way you’ll have read in its original form the idea I ripped off and sent to every Irish publisher I could think of.

What I don’t think I can recommend is Thomas Harris’s new book Cari Mora, because a) we expect better from the man who invented Hannibal Lecter and b) there was never a good book published with that kind of giant font.

You’re welcome.

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