COVID-19 pandemic restrictions eliminated a lot of in-person media access in North American sports, and that’s understandable. In a universe before wide vaccine availability in the U.S. and Canada, limiting the amount of people that athletes were in contact with made absolute sense (even if the way that was actually applied was sometimes unfairly skewed in favor of league or league-affiliated outlets), and most leagues at least made partial efforts to offer remote alternatives such as Zoom press conferences and (occasional) interviews. However, with a significant amount of both athletes and media members currently vaccinated, many have wondered if we can return to some looser pre-pandemic media access approaches. And one of the first places that seems to be happening is in MLB, as Forbes senior contributor Maury Brown tweeted Friday:
A small but significant thing happened for MLB media: vaccinated media members will be able to talk to players on the field one-on-one starting Monday for pre-game.
— Maury Brown (@BizballMaury) June 4, 2021
As The Athletic’s Lindsey Adler noted, this came as a result of a push from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America and president C. Trent Rosecrans (also of The Athletic):
Would also like to thank those within the game — especially players and front-facing staff — who have said they recognize the value of in-person coverage and the stories we can tell that way. Privately or publicly, it’s been meaningful to me. Can’t wait to terrorize y’all soon.
— Lindsey Adler (@lindseyadler) June 4, 2021
This is a huge change for those who cover baseball, and it’s one that should have lots of benefits for those who produce MLB stories, those who read them, and those who are featured in them. The extremely limited in-person access to players under COVID-19 protocols made it much harder for many of those baseball reporters to get the kind of player comments they might have been able to in 2018 or 2019. And that hurt both writers and readers.
There were also losses there for players. Yes, talking to the media isn’t always a good experience, and it doesn’t always lead to a positive result. But when it goes right, it’s a way to get across your perspective on a particular topic. Without this media access, players’ thoughts and perspectives weren’t as often featured in stories. That’s understandable during a high-risk pandemic period, but with vaccination numbers regularly rising (and with media members looking to do this having to provide proof of vaccination), there isn’t as much of a risk now. Having vaccinated media members talk to players one-on-one on the field (outdoors, in most circumstances; the only fixed-roof field currently in MLB is the Tampa Bay Rays’ Tropicana Field) seems like it’s not adding much in the way of COVID-19 risk, and it is adding a fair bit of value to media coverage.
And, despite the benefits of in-person access and individual partners for many parties, it should be noted that the return to this state was far from guaranteed. In contrast, the NFL looks likely to keep its locker rooms closed this fall, citing COVID-19 concerns. And many other leagues are still limiting or prohibiting much one-on-one media access. The quote-tweets of Brown’s tweet alone show that:
And the NHL https://t.co/X2K8GAKEbq
— Stephen Whyno (@SWhyno) June 4, 2021
And the NFL https://t.co/yQLM5cQ61x
— Alain Poupart (@PoupartNFL) June 4, 2021
This comes amidst the wider discussion currently ongoing about media access and its benefits and potential harms, something illustrated in all the talk about Naomi Osaka eventually withdrawing from the French Open after facing fines and threatened disqualification and suspension for her decision to boycott post-match press conferences. Some media behavior is certainly poor, and there have been several athletes who have taken stances against talking to the media. And there’s a significant group of current athletes that don’t enjoy media obligations, and would prefer for pre-pandemic media rules to not return even after safety isn’t a concern. So it’s interesting to see more in-person access coming back in baseball, and reportedly with some support for that move from players. We’ll see how that goes, and we’ll see how the access story goes for other leagues.
[Maury Brown on Twitter]