The issues with soccer media
I haven’t blogged in awhile. Basically, I’ve been doing what I would consider more important things, but in the last few days I have been drawn back in by the USMNT’s embarrassing loss to Argentina. Embarrassing not in that they lost, but embarrassing in the way they lost.
Nevertheless, I’m not here to fix US Soccer. I don’t have the time, energy, effort, money, or power to fix that. Honestly I don’t even have the power or voice to fix what I’m here to complain about. But let’s give it a shot anyway, shall we?
I was listening to The Total Soccer Show following the loss. If you follow soccer, you inevitably listen to at least one soccer podcast. The Total Soccer Show is probably the best one there is. Their analytical take on each game is incredible. In it one of the host Daryl Grove asked a question about the “US soccer media.” He mentioned, and I’m paraphrasing here, that they didn’t ask the tactical questions that were so clearly questionable following the loss. He asked why the soccer media didn’t ask about the seemingly poor preparation. What I believe he wanted to know is why the media or US soccer themselves seemed poorly equipped to tackle actual soccer analytics, but rather wanted to talk about unimportant story lines.
Later, the following day I believe, Fox Sports blowhard extraordinaire Colon Cowherd began asking questions about the actual quality of our players. Jason Whitlock, who since I live in a soccer bubble I had never heard of before yesterday, and Cowherd began to question everything about US Soccer. How they prepared. How they chose players. Why they aren’t good enough. Why players who are, in their opinions, quite average get so much respect in US soccer circles. These should be questions that are asked ad nauseam by people covering soccer in the United States. So why aren’t they?
These two things -Grove’s questions on The Total Soccer Show, and the way seasoned non-soccer journalists like Whitlock and Cowherd covered the USMNT following an embarrassing dismantling- showed that people understand how to ask questions, but it also reminded me of something that happened to me when I first started covering soccer as a pseudo-journalist. Something that perhaps answers the question as to why soccer journalism doesn’t push the boundaries of problems with the USSF’s system and status quo.
When I first starting covering MLS, it was in blog format. I was just some dude whose hobby and talent at writing was enough to get a spot writing, and getting paid, for a few different websites. This is how a lot, not all, of soccer journalists got their start: as bloggers. But here’s the thing, I moved beyond just blogging. In the age of new media, bloggers were some of the few people to continuously cover MLS and US Soccer. So suddenly new and old media just became media and I found myself getting press credentials. These credentials were not just to MLS games either. I actually got into a Bob Bradley presser following a USMNT tie against Argentina in New York -I’ll come back to this later.
Writing early on before I had figured out how things work, I wrote what I considered a soft-complaint about a certain MLS team. It was not harsh. It was not scathing, but it did goad the media relations person with said team. The editor at the blog I wrote for had to go to bat for me over what was not even a slightly jarring piece of writing. I, again as just some guy who was able to put fingers to keyboard write relatively solid, usually sarcastic, pieces of new media became part of the system at that point. I got nervous about pushing further than I did for fear of being kicked out of something I was invited to do.
Another experiences I specifically remember as a blogger was when people on a new media list received an email from an MLS team about how some of the “new media” needed to be less – and I can’t remember the exact quote – fan-boyish if they were awarded a trip to a locker room. I don’t know a lot about media, new or old, but journalists shouldn’t be fans or should at least be able to hide their fanhood when covering a team. However, US Soccer had brought this to themselves by buying into new media (the only people giving them the continuous time of day) without explaining their vague rules on professionalism.
If you follow my “work” – a term I use very loosely – you know I’m overly sardonic. Something I used to do is ask players “3 Stupid Questions”. Most guys thought it was funny, or worst case scenario stupid. So at yet another MLS stadium, when I recorded this piece with a player – one that I had did with other players – and was threatened to have my credentials pulled again, I figured it was time to move on.. If you know me on Twitter or in real life you know which player this was (it rhymes with “tuck-face”). Luckily, I moved far away and luckily or unluckily I now won’t have an MLS team near me until 2017. But those two things – the blog and the recording – had me shook.
So when I was able to go to a Bob Bradley presser (told you I’d come back to this), do you know what I asked at said press conference?
No, seriously, nothing. I, the guy who talks shit on Twitter, who sarcastically podcasts NPSL and USASA games, the one who shouts to all who will hear me from the rooftops was too cowardly to ask any questions.
Listening to Grove on The Total Soccer Show, he and his co-host have a better analytical soccer mind than three-quarters of “regular” US soccer media. Much of US soccer media is made up of new media: bloggers, podcasters (guilty as charged). Many of whom do not know the analytics of soccer. Additionally, you don’t find much push from the media on anything. Jason Whitlock and Collin Cowherd can push. They work for a big media company. USSF is not taking their press credentials if they get pushed by them.
There’s a reason why Alexi Lalas and Eric Wynalda get a lot of flak from various sides on Twitter and other social media. They try to be provocative – Wynalda even more so than Lalas. These two are not losing credentials. But Joe Blogger from SBNation, who probably covers more US Soccer and MLS than most guys could.
No, the USSF is not going to be fixed by journalists, but they are going to help. You want MLS and the USMNT to matter? Get real journalists, not just bloggers – and this is coming from a blogger who is totally not a big deal. And if you are a blogger, don’t worry about losing your credentials if you have a good story.
It’s not the end solution, but until we have a Collin Cowherd or Jason Whitlock every day, and not just every four years, there is no pressure on Jurgen, the players, the fans, or anyone else. We may yet not know what a world-class American soccer player looks like, but we know what a world-class sports journalist looks like. Hell, the US invented the world-class sports journalist. We may not know how to develop a great American soccer player, but we can certainly develop the great American soccer journalist. Maybe he or she will be the one who gets to the bottom of our broken system over some of these shills – myself included.