The Indianapolis Star has two excellent team beat writers that cover the Colts, and their names are Mike Chappell and Phil Wilson. While Chappell does more of the traditional, old school beat writer duties, Wilson has been the one tackling more 'new media' options when covering the team. He maintains a blog on the Star's website, and he is active on Twitter.
In many ways, with all due respect to Chap for his fine work, Wilson keeps the newspaper relevant in the new world of sports media.
I've met Phil several times. I like his work, and I think he does a good job balancing fair criticism with knowledgeable insight. So, when Phil opens his Monday morning blog entry with a line that, essentially, calls Colts vice chairman Bill Polian a coward, it kind of gets my attention [emphasis mine]
What’s buggin’ me — Colts vice chairman Bill Polian continues his cowardly ways toward local media as he provides access to a New York radio station, Chris Mortensen (I’m guessing) and NBC/SI’s Peter King during the week, then CBS for its pregame show Sunday. I went 0-for-1 in my requests to talk to the so-called genius. Hey, Bill, just an FYI. I’m not going away. The blogger is going to continue to call you out for this.
And I thought I was the only one who held the patent on calling out the ole redhead.
I don't think it's any secret that Bill Polian hates local media, and wants absolutely nothing to do with them. He much prefers his cuddly little teddy bear (Chris Mortensen) whenever he wants to give a news source a 'breaking' story. Mortensen's a corporate information guy, not a journalist looking to ask tough follow-up questions that inform his readers. He just accepts whatever Bill Polian tells him, and reports it.
At least, that's how it looks.
Polian seems to have a general love affair with the Worldwide Leader, having gone on ESPN radio 1050 in New York last week prior to the Mortensen report on Manning's surgery and announced (to the shock of everyone) that Peyton Manning would be listed 'OUT' for the game against the Texans.
The next day, Mortensen 'breaks' the news that Peyton has spinal fusion surgery, even though 1070 The Fan's Jon Michael Vincent had reported that Manning would need surgery four days prior. Roughly five minutes after Mort's report, the Colts published a long, detailed statement on their website.
Now, for those of you out there who find the 'game behind the game' stuff interesting, you know that it was no coincidence that Polian made this major announcement on a NYC ESPN affiliate radio and then, a day later, chatted it up with Mortensen to give him the 'scoop' on the Manning surgery. Doing so certainly caught the attention of many local Indiana media types, including my buddy Derek Schultz, who co-hosts an afternoon talk sports talk show at 1260 WNDE in Indy:
Leave it to the Colts to break the news to the out-of-market media.
Yes indeed. It certainly is interesting that the Colts opted to break the biggest story of this early season to an ESPN radio station in New York City (and, later, to ESPN's Chris Mortensen on the spinal fusion story) and not, say, the radio station that carries the team's games every Sunday, 1070 The Fan in Indianapolis, which is also the city's ESPN affiliate, or the newspaper that was a corporate sponsor for their training camp this year: The Indianapolis Star.
Why would the Colts shun their own radio carrier and newspaper sponsor like that, especially when an employee at 1070 originally broke the Manning surgery story?
I think the answer is obvious, and it mostly involves comparing Bill Polian to the rear-end of a farting donkey.
I can tell you right now the folks at 1070 and the Star were NOT pleased these news times were blabbed to out-of-market media. It's pretty clearly Polian thumbing his nose at the local media market, which as often been very accommodating to Bill and his kids running the front office.
Personally, I find this kind of stuff absolutely fascinating.
Now, obviously, Bill Polian doesn't have to talk to any local media if he doesn't want to. Does it make him look like a horse's anus by acting this way? Yes, of course. Local media is very important. People often trust their local news source more so than a national source. Bill Polian's attitude is a big reason why he is universally loathed by pretty much everyone in the media, local or national. The reason ESPN grovels before him is because he gives them special access in exchange for special access. That ESPN is not an entity interested in journalistic integrity (just ask Bruce Feldman) doesn't seem to bother ole Bill. ESPN is a business, and their business is information. Doesn't matter if it's real or not. If it comes from the mouth of Bill Polian, it generates page views, ratings, and tons of speculation no matter how much bull it's made from.
This side of the sports business is not one many fans get a chance to see. I've seen it for the better part of three years now, and it has absolutely opened my eyes to the ugly side of pro sports. Nate Dunlevy got a taste of it recently, and it bothered him so much that he said he will, essentially,
give up and quit scale back operations at 18to88.com:
I find this whole business distasteful. If faithfully uncovering stories like Monday's is an essential element of covering a team, then I want no part of it. It is soul-killing. It turns you into a monster constantly at odds with the team that you love.
Sports is supposed to be fun.
While sports is indeed supposed to be 'fun,' and is for the most part, choosing to ignore its ugly side does little to change things. If, in order for something to remain 'fun' the key participants are required to remain ignorant, then the sport really isn't that much fun, is it?
Fortunately, Nate hasn't followed through with his little 'woe-is-me-I'm-hiding-in-the-corner-now' ultimatum last week. He's written a lot since then, and I hope he continues to do so. If he does choose to follow through with it, if he opts to run and hide now that the veil has been pulled away and many of the things he's ranted against over the years have ended up being truths, then he, like Bill Polian, is a coward.
Back to Wilson, I applaud him for calling out ole Bill for his recent behavior. He will certainly get some flak for it, and maybe his editor will get a call from Colts COO Pete Ward, complaining about the 'unfair coverage' the Star gives the Colts. But, one of the things that makes Phil a good writer is his willingness to call it like it is. That's often the mark of a good reporter.
Oh, and unlike Nate Dunlevy, Phil isn't going to 'scale back his operations' in the face of a little adversity. Neither will we. Part of what we do here is pull the veil away, as much as we can, and still find a way to enjoy the sport and team we love sans the spin. And, part of doing that is holding ole Bill accountable for the way he treats media and fans.
I hope you appreciate why we do this, and if you don't, well, then I guess just read Jim Irsay's Twitter feed, the 'official' news on Colts.com, and call it a day.