Wilbon Singing At Wrigley A Conflict Of Interest?

Michael Wilbon, PTI luminary and semi-confused derider of blogs, was also something else entirely: a newspaperman. Before ESPN made him a star, Wilbon had graduated to columns, sure, but he was still hacking it around like so many other print journalists, upholding rituals as old as the newspaper itself.

Among those? No cheering in the press box. There’s even a book with that as its title. But what about singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game?” That’s what Wilbon did at Wrigley Sunday night, and he feels weird about it.

From Teddy Greenstein of the CHICAGO TRIBUNE:

And bizarre because of the ethical line he seemingly had crossed. No, this wasn’t cheering in the press box. It was wearing a team’s uniform on its home field before 40,000 fans. “When they asked me to do it,” Wilbon said, “I thought: No. Sportswriters, journalists don’t do that.”

Then Wilbon remembered: He’s not just a sportswriter. He estimates that no more than 20 percent of his “PTI” audience would even realize he writes a sports column for the Washington Post. “I have to realize what it is I do now,” he said. “I’m not a writer covering the NFL. It’s a painful truth, but I am lucky. When ESPN asks me to do something promotional, well, they’re my employer, too.”

This, in a nutshell, is why ESPN Ombudsman Le Anne Schreiber’s work is still unfinished. At the same time as it has decried new, independent media outlets, ESPN has also pushed formerly credentialed sports journalists into entertainment roles. The lines are getting blurry.

Is Wilbon singing at Wrigley that big of a deal? No. But then, neither is some guy “in his basement” sharing his opinion on sports. And for all his criticism of sports blogs (and for all of ESPN’s gradual adoption of the medium), Wilbon would do well to realize that fairness without objectivity is what bloggers do. You can’t hate blogging one day and act like a blogger the next.