Jay Glazer: We Fear What We Don’t Understand

Recently Richard Sandomir, the sports media watchdog of the NEW YORK TIMES, examined the business relationship Fox NFL reporter Jay Glazer has with NFL players.

Jay Glazer

Noting that Glazer now trains NFL players in the art of MMA, Sandomir observed:

Glazer’s arrangement is unusual, at best, and raises questions about how he balances his competing interests. While some N.F.L. reporters and sportscasters cover the sport for more than one news media outlet, Glazer reports on some of the same players and teams who pay him for his training expertise.

In polling Fox, the NFL league office and NFL players and coaches, Sandomir was unable to find anyone who objected to Glazer’s arrangement.

Journalism ethics expert Bob Steele of the Poynter Institute though did raise questions about Glazer’s situation:

“You can only scrutinize what he reports. But you can’t scrutinize what he does not report, so we don’t know what he didn’t ask an athlete. He might be making legitimate journalistic choices, but you can’t tell because you can’t see beneath the surface.”

That’s as deep as the criticism went of Glazer in the New York Times piece.

Though in a recent blog post on his personal website, successful author and former Sports Illustrated reporter Jeff Pearlman wasn’t nearly so kind.

When he’s not reporting on NFL players and teams, Glazer, ahem, works for NFL players and teams. Literally. He is a mixed martial arts trainer whose clients include two franchises (the Falcons and Rams) and, apparently, dozens of players, ranging from Ryan Grant to Patrick Willis to Matt Leinart. As in, they pay him for his services.

This, journalistically, is a joke. An embarrassing, pathetic, worst-of-its-kind joke.

Pearlman cites the ethics policy of Sports Illustrated as the basis for his criticism of Glazer:

When I started at Sports Illustrated in 1996, the editor, Bill Colson, had a policy: You were to receive no gifts/handouts from teams/players/etc that valued in excess of $10. Many of us (myself included) took it a step further: We accepted nothing. Absolutely nothing.

Pearlman also sullies Glazer employer Fox*:

Equally shameful, of course, is Fox—yet again. This violates more journalistic standards than one can count. Even if Glazer is completely unbiased (a human impossibility), perception outweighs reality. How can anyone take his reporting seriously?

Pearlman’s claims about Glazer and Fox are serious, hyperbolic and somewhat insulting.

And ironic.

Longtime Pearlman Sports Illustrated co-worker and perhaps the most prominent writer to ever work for the magazine, Rick Reilly, has a history of taking money from athletes for services rendered.

In ‘91, Reilly co-authored Wayne Gretzky’s autobiography. In  ‘95, Reilly co-authored a book with Charles Barkley about the “wit and wisdom” of the NBA player. In ‘88 Reilly co-authored Brian Bosworth’s autobiography.

From Reilly’s personal website:

He is the co-author of “The Boz,” the best-selling autobiography of bad-boy Oklahoma linebacker Brian Bosworth; “Gretzky,” with hockey superstar Wayne Gretzky of the Los Angeles Kings; “I’d Love to but I Have a Game” with NBC announcer Marv Albert, and the “The Wit and Wisdom of Charles Barkley.”

The books were all published while Gretzky, Barkley and Bosworth were still active professional athletes.

Pearlman cites Glazer’s business relationship with professional athletes, in which the player pays Glazer for services rendered, as an embarrassing, pathetic, worst-of-its-kind joke. He also cites Sports Illustrated as a bastion of journalistic integrity.

Yet the highest profile writer at Sports Illustrated when Pearlman was at the magazine, Reilly, was effectively paid by active pro athletes to write their autobiographies.

Worst yet, Reilly was a columnist for Sports Illustrated at the time, so he was paid by the magazine to give opinions on matters that might overlap with those same three athletes.

In a more recent example of SI writers benefiting financially from the current subjects they cover, SI baseball reporter Tom Verducci wrote a book with Joe Torre published last year about Torre’s experience managing the Yankees.

So Glazer takes money for training NFL players. Rick Reilly takes money from Wayne Gretzky for writing his autobiography. Tom Verducci takes money from current Dodger manager Joe Torre for writing a book about Torre’s days in New York.

How are those transactions different?

Are Reilly and Verducci’s journalistic ethics, as Pearlman characterized Glazer, an “embarrassing, pathetic, worst-of-its-kind joke“?

I recognize that Reilly and Verducci probably weren’t paid directly by their book subjects. But their work, for which they were paid handsomely, directly benefited the same sports figures they were covering in their day job. And the money paid to Reilly and Verducci wouldn’t have existed without their personal relationship to those sports figures.

As for Pearlman’s criticism of Fox (”yet again“), not a day goes by that I couldn’t cite countless conflicts of interest at the sports media leader, ESPN. Not to mention the NFL-owned and operated NFL Network.

In the case of ESPN, the network rakes in hundreds of millions in revenue and branding benefits from the same league that it supposedly objectively covers - the NFL. ESPN’s lead NFL reporter, Adam Schefter, is a highly-respected journo previously under the employ of the NFL itself at the NFL Network.

Does that make ESPN and Schefter an, “embarrassing, pathetic, worst-of-its-kind joke“?

Most ironic in Pearlman’s criticism of Glazer is that the Fox reporter has broken as many stories that were damaging to the NFL itself than anyone the past decade.

Don’t believe me? Then believe Pearlman’s beloved Sports Illustrated, which named Glazer the 2007 sports media “Person of the Year”.  From SI.com’s Richard Deitsch on Dec. 20, 2007:

JAY GLAZER, Fox Sports: The list of organizations more secretive than the NFL isn’t long (the Kremlin, CIA and MI-6 come to mind), which makes Glazer’s investigative work this season all the more impressive. The Fox insider nabbed the NFL scoop of the year by procuring a copy of the Patriots’ now infamous videotape of the Jets’ defensive signals (”the Magruder tape,” his Fox colleague Howie Long dubbed it before host Curt Menefee mentioned something called the Zapruder film). Glazer then followed his Spygate scoop by getting the video surveillance tape from the March 19 brawl at the Palms casino between Dolphins linebacker Joey Porter and Bengals lineman Levi Jones. Glazer said the Dolphins and the league office pressured Fox not to air the tape.

Glazer’s response? “We had the tape,” he says. “How could we not go with it? I have a catchphrase; I call guys around all the time and say, ‘Give me some scoopage.’ If I don’t have a big scoop each week, I take it hard. You don’t go after the story — you go after the relationship, and the stories will come with the relationship.”

I’ve worked in main sports media for 16 years and have covered it daily while running this site for over nine years. From that experience, I can confirm that there isn’t a single sports media organization without a significant conflict of interest.

Dealing with those conflicts is what distinguishes genuine reporters from bought-off, agenda-driven hacks. The latter, once they are revealed, are almost always marginalized and ignored.

Glazer training the same NFL players he reports on does deserve scrutiny. But if he didn’t fight fair in his reporting, do you think NFL players, coaches and the league would allow such activity? This is the same Glazer who has embarrassed NFL players, coaches and the league with his reporting over the years, yet they’re okay with what he’s doing.

The criticism of Glazer in the media comes from those who find it impossible for him to have gained trust from the same subjects he sometimes has to publicly embarrass. Glazer is the best at something that has rarely, if ever existed in the sports media.

We fear what we don’t understand.

* Disclosure: Though my work does appear on FoxSports.com, I am not paid by Fox, Newscorp or its subsidiaries