Are Players Obliged to Respect the Media?

After leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers, Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving has found a second passion outside of basketball: assassinating his own public perception.

After leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers, Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving has found a second passion outside of basketball: assassinating his own public perception. Though the 2016 National Basketball Association (NBA) Champion’s on-court play has never ceased to amaze, he’s been busy infuriating the media and the fans. Irving has made headlines in the past claiming the Earth is flat, rejecting Christmas as a holiday, lying to the Boston Celtics’ crowd about his free agency plans, subtly calling out former teammates, and spewing hilariously wonky philosophical takes. His absence from the court due to injury doesn’t seem to help as well. But Kyrie does what Kyrie does; Last week, Irving skipped his media day interview and was subsequently fined by the NBA for not fulfilling his media obligation. A day later he addressed the media on Instagram: “I do not talk to pawns. My attention is worth more.”

Irving’s distaste towards the media is nothing new. Over the past years, he’s accused the media of putting words in his mouth, excessively berating him, and taking his quotes out of context. For example, last summer, after claiming that his new partner-in-crime, former Golden State Warrior Kevin Durant, is the only player he could look to take a last second shot, the media and fans inferred that Irving was taking subtle shots at his former teammate Lebron James, to which he responded: “Don’t listen to the false narratives.” He’s not the only athlete that has expressed discontent with the media; case in point: Marshawn Lynch’s infamous Super Bowl XLIX Media Day interview, when he answered every interview question with “I’m only here so I don’t get fined.”

But does Irving’s stance have merit? To a certain extent, yes. Just as there are bad basketball players and players that make mistakes, there are also bad journalists and journalists that make mistakes. In 2016, a Houston-based reporter asked Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green multiple times if there was any correlation between the Houston floods and the Warriors’ performance. Green called out the reporter for attempting to fish a controversial statement, and the reporter was fired not long after asking those questions. In another instance, Durant called out a reporter for generating free-agency rumours about him without sources from him or his camp. In general, however, the media holds high standards of journalistic integrity, and in Irving’s case, he has not been a victim of poor journalism.

It’s unfortunate that Irving maintains such a stance because he is only harming himself and his brand. In sports, the media serves as a conduit that connects the fans to the athletes. Fans are interested in their teams and have questions that they would like the athlete to answer. The reporters and journalists take fan interest into account and ask athletes those questions, subsequently publishing the interviews for fans to engage with. Social media and platforms such as The Players Tribune, which allows athletes to write their own articles, have slightly altered the media dynamic because now fans can get a more personal look at athletes. Nonetheless, reporters still report for the fans, and journalists keep athletes accountable in their statements. Furthermore, some of the most iconic basketball moments have come from players speaking to the public through the media. For example, after winning NBA MVP, Durant delivered a touching speech to his mother, finishing heartfully with “You the real MVP.” After taking a two game lead in the 2009 NBA Finals, Kobe Bryant, when asked why he didn’t seem happier, replied with a stern face, “Job’s not finished,” a testament to his relentless mentality. Moments like these only further generate interest in the sport and become signature taglines that improve both the player’s and the NBA’s profile, which is why the NBA requires its players to engage with the media. For an athlete who’s been loved and supported by his fans throughout his career, Irving has not only a contractual obligation, but arguably a moral responsibility. By calling the media “pawns,” Irving disregards the supporters that buy his signature sneakers, the kids that watch his movie Uncle Drew, and the fans that buy his jerseys. Because sports journalism is an avenue for fan interaction and expression, Irving’s disrespect towards the media has consequences for his and the league’s popularity.

No one is telling Irving that he has to approach the media with a smile, give long takes, or mention flat-Earth conspiracy theories in his interviews. Regardless of how Irving feels about the media and interviews, it’s certainly something that he signed up for when he inked his $136 million contract with the Brooklyn Nets, located in the media capital of the world.

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