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Player's Perspective: Ex-MLSer Bobby Warshaw on the relationship between players and the media

Thierry Henry, New York Red Bulls, faces the media.

Photo Credit: 
USA TODAY Sports

Editor's Note: Originally drafted by FC Dallas in the first round of the 2011 SuperDraft, Bobby Warshaw spent more than two years in Major League Soccer before he was loaned to Swedish club Ängelholms FF in August 2013. He joined Swedish club GAIS on a one-year contract in February. A former academic standout at Stanford University, he has also written for Deadspin.com and PennLive.com.


It’s a beautiful Thursday morning.

The flowers are in full bloom, their bright colors swaying in the wind, creating a subtle hint that today will be a good day. You get to work a little early. It’s deadline day and the budgets are due at 4 pm.

The office is counting on you. This is your chance to shine. 

I’ll take this seat behind you. I hope you don’t mind. I’m a pretty big fan of accounting. The energy, the excitement, it gets me fired up. And by the way, I’ll be reporting out to all of the accounting supporters out there. 

Dude, awesome spreadsheet. Love the borders you have going. You really laid that out nicely.  

Wait, you really want to put Profit there? 

Tweet: “Looking excited and nervous in the early going.”

Oh, projected revenues. Love the equation you used for that. Lots of quality in what you’re doing. Wait, you put the wrong number in the input. That’s a vital play, man. 

And dude, you hit a five instead of a four there. Four. Not five, four. 

Tweet: “This hack confused foreign income tax brackets with domestic tax returns. Lol. So simple!”

What’s that? Am I an accounting major? No, I stopped studying after high school. Well, a few buddies and I get together to crunch some numbers on the weekend sometimes. But I’ve been watching you do it for years. I know all about it. 

Tweet: “It’s getting late and he’s settled into a defensive shell. I’m not sure he’s got the mettle to see this one out.”

Wow. It’s like you don’t even know I’m here, even though you clearly panicked when the printer went down. Not so great under pressure, I guess?

Tweet: “The closing bell has rung. He’s completed the job, but it wasn’t pretty. Lots of typos and sloppy errors. He can’t be happy with his performance. More to come on today’s shift from the break room shortly.”

---

When I first got the opportunity from MLSsoccer.com to talk about the soccer world from a player’s perspective, I was really ready to get after it. And it seemed obvious enough, as a player now writing for a media outlet, to begin with players and media.

Players always say they don’t read what people write, but they do. One of the first things you learn as a rookie is to never open a newspaper, because those distractions can only hurt you. It’s a black eye on your locker room reputation if you stay up to date on the blogs. (Photo courtesy of svenskfotboll)

Honestly, I’ve always wanted to tell someone about the scenario above, my immediate reaction when a journalist like Simon Borg critiques one of my teammates. I dream of sitting behind him at his desk and poking him every time the red line comes up under a misspelled word. Because getting critiqued by someone who can’t come close to doing your job is pretty annoying.

I suppose there’s something to be said here about biting the hand that feeds you. But there’s also a quote about not asking if you don’t want to know. And this site wanted to know.

So, taken from my experiences, here are a few of the tidbits that I’ve noticed about the soccer media.

The Awkward Conversation

There’s a funny go-to line in movies when three friends are in a room and two of them are talking about the third: “Guys, I’m literally sitting right here.”

That’s how I feel about the media sometimes. They write as if the players don’t actually exist in the real world, like we can’t read or hear what they say. I know they have a job to do. They shouldn’t worry about my feelings when it comes to reporting the truth, and no one readily offers up much sympathy to professional athletes. I get it.

The thing is, we are prideful, arrogant SOBs at heart. I’m not sure you can make it to the top and not be. We see what the media says and we don’t forget it.

I can say horrible things to the name on the computer screen, but what am I supposed to say to this real life person in front of me? You can’t hate someone when he asks about your parents. He was just doing his job. He’s doing his best and saying what he feels is accurate. I disagree with him as a journalist, but I kinda like him as a human being. (Photo by USA Today Sports)

Players always say they don’t read what people write, but they do. They might not check regularly, but there is always a moment of weakness. One of the first things you learn as a rookie is to never open a newspaper, because those distractions can only hurt you. It’s a black eye on your locker room reputation if you stay up to date on the blogs.

When people ask, we lie and claim we are staying clear. But very few players stay completely clean. So when we see the journalist from the local paper waiting outside the locker room on a Monday morning, it typically makes for some interesting internal conversations inside my head.

“I read what you said about my teammate yesterday. Now you want my help? You’re going to smile at me like we’re boys? That’s audacious of you.”

The problem is, the guy in front of me isn’t just the name on a Dallas Morning News article or on a blog post on some site. He’s an actual human being. He is smiling and asking how my parents are.

I can say horrible things to the name on the computer screen, but what am I supposed to say to this real-life person in front of me? You can’t hate someone when he asks about your parents. He was just doing his job. He was doing his best and saying what he feels is accurate. I disagree with him as a journalist, but I kinda like him as a human being.  

Sometimes I want to yell at him during an interview, and then get a beer with him at night. Personal vs. Professional, man. It’s a bind. 

The Annoying Hype

I get that sports are a form of entertainment. Sports can be a wild ride. But let’s just chill out with the Kool-Aid sometimes.

Sometimes a loss is just a loss and a signing is just a signing. You can’t open a soccer website without being told the sky is falling or a new player is taking the league by storm.

The reporter holds a microphone to our mouths and asks the question with an enthusiastic tone. He expects us to match his excitement. But in reality, it’s just another thing among 30 other things that happen in a season. (Photo by USA Today Sports)

The reporter holds a microphone to our mouths and asks the question with an enthusiastic tone. He expects us to match his excitement. But in reality, it’s just another thing among 30 other things that happen in a season. When we talk about it over lunch, it’s just another event to take in stride.

“Hey Steve, you hear we moved down two spots in the Power Rankings and big changes are coming?”

“Yeah. What’s the latest on Tinder?” 

I understand the predicament. The media outlets are doing their job. They are creating buzz. And as fans, our teams mean so much to us that every little detail leaves us flying in the wind. It’s a natural reaction. For example, after every Ryan Howard home run, I text my Dad, “The Phillies are back, baby!” (Sadly, they most certainly never are.) I understand.

But in the locker room, we find the hype comical. [Expletive] happens. It rarely causes a cosmic shift. The more experienced players know it’s never as bad as it appears, and it’s never as good as it seems. 

One event doesn’t demand a major statement. Just because we lost at home in front of a big crowd doesn’t mean we need to sign a DP.

The Delicate Balance

I'd be willing to bet that most athletes (and people, for that matter) expect the love given to us to be unconditionally pure, even though we can’t do the same ourselves for other people. We all talk behind other people’s backs, but we cry in the bathroom when we hear someone talk about us. Don’t act like you haven’t done it.

And I get that criticism comes with the territory in sports. Athletes have an amazing job, and we count our blessings every day. We accept the negatives. But with every job, with every life, a person will find the drawbacks or possible improvements. Hell, what would we talk about half the time if we didn’t?

I get that criticism comes with the territory in sports. Athletes have an amazing job, and we count our blessings every day. We accept the negatives. But with every job, with every life, a person will find the drawbacks or possible improvements. Hell, what would we talk about half the time if we didn’t?
(Photo by USA Today Sports)

At the end of the day, I think there is one idea that can help sum up the relationship between players and the media, explained here by essayist and cartoonist Tim Kreider.

Kreider talks about the idea of walking up a staircase, and at every step you hear a comment someone else has made about you. All the negative comments are at the bottom, but if you can make it through that, you get to hear all the wonderful things people say about you at the top.

Most of us would never make it past the first few rungs. We'd be stuck near the bottom, paralyzed with embarrassment, anger and fear after a few steps, missing out on the positive end.

Players are always going to hear and read what the media say. Sometimes it’s positive and wonderful. We thank the journalists for those moments. And it should be said that MLS journalists generally prefer hero stories instead of negative columns.

But there will always be negative comments, deservedly so for our bad games and poor performances. Journalists must call it like they see it. The fact is, the first few steps on the staircase are difficult to overcome. We can’t be stuck on the negatives when players need to be confident and happy.

I suppose that's why we'd like to avoid the steps altogether. That's easier said than done, though, even if it keeps our sun shining and the flowers bright.