“Can I Get Some Information, Please?”

(quote courtesy of Paula Abdul, who I wanted to be when I was 9)

What is the purpose of a sports journalist? To report given information and place it in its correct context, or to report what information isn’t given and expand on it?

Wednesday, the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle devoted two articles (http://www.democratandchronicle.com/sports/bills/0804DO54EOD_sports.shtml and http://www.democratandchronicle.com/sports/bills/0804DO54EO6_sports.shtml) to Bills tackle Mike Williams, a second year player who had missed most if not all of the offseason workouts due to a “personal situation.” As per the information given by the Bills, a close member of his family died. Approaching the current training camp in good ol’ Rochester, Williams was demoted to the second string by Mike Mularkey because he had missed so much work in the off season. This was big news–Williams has always been toted as one of GM Tom Donahoe’s “good” draft picks (as opposed to Willis McGahee and the yet-to-be-determined pick of Losman as the new Jim Kelly, just several years removed.) Mularkey was making waves as a new coach by demoting such a player.

Williams was absent from practice on Tuesday, which incurs a fine from Mularkey. The Bills information said that he missed due to a “personal problem.”

These two articles on Wednesday infer that although Williams has suffered personal tragedy and family hardship recently, his absence was due to a lack of work ethic and therefore an oversight by Donahoe. Williams is a “38 million dollar backup” now, it proclaimed. They should of drafted someone else, in particular Byant McKinnie, instead. Will Donahoe ever get anything right?

In my own opinion, no, Donahoe will never get anything right because he’s highly overrated and worked only well with the defensive-obsessed Cowher-headed Steelers, who never ever had an offensive bright spot in the 90s (and yes, I remember Kordell Stewart.) But that’s besides the point. Williams indeed was back on Wednesday, ready to work after having to attend to family business the day before. His work ethic still intact, he told reporters that everything was fine, and he understands why he was fined.

However, the reporters at the Democrat and Chronicle decided not to report solely the information the Bills were giving them, and hypothized that Williams has just become lazy and happy to sit on his laurels, much like the recently retired Ricky Williams, and it was just a mistake by Donahoe, who might actually be the weak spot on this oh-so-promising-over-the-past-three-years-franchise. And their two stories (not just one–two–one presented as opinion but not attributed to any author on the website, and the other as a training camp report) revolved around this non-information.

And I, being the doormat that I am, ate it up.

I mean, I was raised by a lifelong Steelers hater. You blame Donahoe for something, well, I’m right on board. He’s from the Steelers, therefore he is evil. So I bought into this idea. I rely on the good ol’ D&C for my Bills news. If they are saying that Mike Williams could be going the way of Ricky Williams, they must have good reason.

And then you find out all of the information by reading what the Boston Globe is saying, and what ESPN.com is saying, and then you realize that those two articles were based more on inference than information.

What is the job of a sports journalist? Is it to explain to us, the non-sports-journalist, those of us who would love to do that but got derailed upon the way, what is going on in that sport? Or is it to take advantage of us who trust the journalist to give us the facts by “explaining” a situation by inference? We, the average reader of the sports section (a demographic which is constantly changing), are not “in the know” or smart enough to place pieces together and come to our own conclusions, so the reporters at the D&C have decided that they are going to use the information not given and present it as the only information.

Bill Simmons, in one of his many loving tributes (sarcasm) to Nomar this week, said this about Boston sports journalists: “Many of the columnists care more about stirring things up than making sports more fun to follow, which is the whole reason you should be covering sports in the first place.” These two articles were more about stirring up rumors about the “truth” the Bills were “hiding” from us, than the truth.

And you know this isn’t that big of a deal. It’s a fine line between the facts that are given and what is the truth and what needs to be shared and just overall ethics of giving thousands of readers information. Disputes like this happen often–this is why freedom of the press is an awesome idea. We need several different outlets so that we the reader can come up with our own conclusions. However, it’s sad in this instance because it is obvious that Mike Williams suffered a catastrophic family event and now a couple hundred guys in Rochester who think that Bob Matthews is the be-all-end-all of all sports media (sorry, personal jab–I listen to his show when I’m at home, but it’s only to argue with everything he says. My father always wants me to call in, but I’m too shy) think that he didn’t show up to practices because he’s just another Ricky Williams–a spoiled and free-spirited 20-something who got rich too quick and now wants to rest on his laurels. The guy, as per the actual information provided by him and the Bills, is going through a tough time and doesn’t deserve us thinking he’s a waste of space–physically and cap money wise.

I adore football season, but it’s back to studying research methods…


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