Saturday was Johnny Manziel’s first opportunity to practice with the Cleveland Browns. Only local reporters, those who cover the team every day were allowed to see Manziel for 15 minutes before they were shuffled out of the team’s practice facility in Berea, OH. National media like ESPN were not allowed inside and were told to gather across the street from the facility’s entrance.
So why did the Browns bother to limit access? Well, because they can. For rookie camp, NFL teams are allowed to set the rules and limit the amount of media allowed inside their facilities. They cannot do this for regular training camp as it is open to the public and all media usually have access.
While the Cleveland Plain Dealer, local TV and radio stations and other local newspapers were able to watch Manziel for a brief period, reporters for ESPN, Fox and other national outlets were left standing outside and asking local media for their impressions. It made for some strange coverage on SportsCenter as its reporter had to be stationed across the street from the practice facility and talk to a local ESPN.com Browns blogger about the Manziel’s session.
A Browns spokesman said, “We wanted to give those in the media who cover us on a daily basis access to the members of the draft class they’ve yet to meet, and also to circle back with our first two picks.”
Only Saturday’s session was open to the media. Sunday’s practice session will be closed.
Are the Browns being overprotective? Certainly. The Browns have chosen a quarterback in the first round whom it hopes it will be the savior of the franchise. However, in keeping the national media away, the Browns are also shooting themselves in the foot. The whole restriction wasn’t to keep the TMZ’s, the Inside Editions or the tabloid media away from Berea, it was to keep ESPN, Fox, Yahoo and other national sports media out. If you want to garner interest in a team that for the most part stumbled since returning to the league in 1999, you need some positive publicity from the national media.
Manziel met with local reporters following his session and said despite being drafted in the first round, he did not expect any favors from the Browns and knew his place with the team. ESPN did have footage of him in rookie camp, but obtained it through Cleveland station, WEWS. It also showed Manziel’s news briefing, but it had to get the video from the Browns.
ESPN won’t have these problems in July and August, but this is not Michael Sam going to the Rams. Manziel is a person who seems to like the national spotlight and enjoys the attention. To insulate him now might be counterproductive, but the team has experience with previous quarterbacks who have been drafted and failed. The Browns know they have a player who has the potential to be special and they hope by doing things differently, they can develop Manziel into the superstar they hope he can be. Still, keeping the national media out is not a good idea and could develop rifts down the road.
In the meantime, the national media will have to contend with heavy restrictions while local media will be able to cover the team as usual.
We’ll see if these restrictions continue until Training Camp opens in the summer.