Michele Roberts: Media spends too much time ‘just standing there, just staring at’ players in locker room

20 Comments

Kevin Durant told the media, “Y’all don’t know s—.”

The Thunder star later backed off, but National Basketball Players Associate executive director Michele Roberts is carrying the torch.

Roberts, via Kate Fagan of ESPN:

“Most of the time I go to the locker room, the players are there and there are like eight or nine reporters just standing there, just staring at them,” Roberts said. “And I think to myself, ‘OK, so this is media availability?’ If you don’t have a f—ing question, leave, because it’s an incredible invasion of privacy. It’s a tremendous commitment that we’ve made to the media — are there ways we can tone it down? Of course. It’s very dangerous to suggest any limitation on media’s access to players, but let’s be real about some of this stuff.

“I’ve asked about a couple of these guys, ‘Does he ask you a question?’ ‘Nah, he just stands there.’ And when I go in there to talk to the guys, I see them trying to listen to my conversation, and I don’t think that’s the point of media availability. If nothing else, I would like to have a rule imposed, ‘If you have a question, ask it; if you don’t, leave.’ Sometimes, they’re waiting for the marquee players. I get that, but there is so much standing around.”

The locker rooms are open twice per game night for the media. The media has access:

  • For about 30 minutes before games
  • About 10 minutes after a game until the players leave

And yes, both sessions include a lot of standing around.

But Roberts has an obvious misunderstanding of what reporters are doing.

Before games, players aren’t always in the locker room while the media is. I’ve often waited in a locker room for players who are warming up on the court, in the training room or somewhere else outside my purview. With just a 30-minute window, I don’t want to miss my chance to speak with someone by dipping in and out of the locker room.

Plus, as long as the locker rooms are open, many reporters believe that’s where they should be if they have nothing else to do. If news is going to happen in those 30 minutes, it’s more likely to happen in the locker room than anywhere else. Most of the time, you’re just going to see players on their phones (unless Kevin Garnett is around). But you also don’t want to miss the rare time something of consequence happens. Sometimes, players speak unexpectedly.

After games, reporters are usually waiting for players to dress. Most players won’t talk until they’re showered and dressed, and with some guys, that takes a long time. So, we wait. There isn’t as much lingering afterward, because most reporters are on deadline, but there’s plenty of standing around before post-game interviews.

No matter what Roberts thinks, we’re not just standing around to be in the way.

That said, I don’t believe the media should have locker-room access.

Conducting interviews in the locker room is a relic of a different era, a time when not everyone had a camera in their pocket and nearly all reporters were men. Back then, it made sense to have reporters to question athletes while they dressed, allowing athletes to do two tasks at once and leave the stadium sooner.

But, now, I agree with Roberts: It is an invasion of privacy.

The awkward glances toward a player dressing to see when he’s finished and ready to talk are extremely uncomfortable for all parties. And when we crowd around players ready to talk, it’s often difficult to do so without occupying space in front of the locker of a teammate still dressing. Plus, who wants to get dressed in a room full of strangers, no matter how courteous they’re being?

If media policies were being formulated from scratch in 2015, there is no way locker-room access would be implemented. It just isn’t the ideal environment for interviews, not for the reporters and not for the players.

I believe the solution is allowing athletes to shower and dress in private and then entering a room designed for interviews. The media might not like losing access, but I think it’s more than a fair concession. There would be challenges – the NBA would have to commit to getting players into the interview room reasonably quickly rather than allowing them to linger in the locker room – but nothing to difficult to overcome.

Roberts seemingly doesn’t have a full understanding of what she’s discussing here. But that doesn’t mean her underlying conclusion is incorrect.